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This French Power Plant Runs on Cheese

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If anyone can find a way to convert cheese into an energy source, it would be the French. A new power station located in the French Alps is using the whey left over from making Beaufort cheese to generate electricity.

After completing the initial steps required to make Beaufort cheese, cheesemakers are left with the byproducts of whey and cream. The cream can be used to make butter, protein powder, or ricotta cheese, but finding a practical application for the watery remains known as whey can be a bit trickier. In order to transform this product into a source of power, the plant adds bacteria that converts the whey into a biogas consisting of methane and carbon dioxide. This occurs through a natural fermentation process, similar to how methane is produced in cows’ stomachs. This gas then goes through an engine that heats water close to boiling and generates hydroelectricity.

The idea may sound far-fetched, but similar cheese-powered plants have been built in the past. A decade ago, the Canadian renewable energy company Valbio constructed its prototype station next to an abbey of cheesemaking monks for this very purpose. It’s estimated that 20 more small-scale plants of this variety have been built since, but this new location in Savoie will be one of the largest. The power station will be able to generate enough electricity per year to support a community of 1500—while that’s significantly less than the plant’s home town of Albertville’s population of about 18,000, it’s still a big step towards delicious sustainability.

[h/t: The Telegraph]

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The Chemistry Behind the World’s Worst-Smelling Fruit
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Durian is hailed by many in southeast Asia as “The King of Fruits.” It’s also been banned in many public spaces in the region for having a pungent odor that’s reminiscent of “the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction,” as one French naturalist put it. So what is it about that delicacy that elicits such strong responses?

According to the PBS web series Reactions, the answer lies in durian’s chemistry. Sulfur is present in some of the key molecules that give the fruit its distinct scent. This chemical element is often described as having a rotten egg smell, and can be found in poisonous gas, rancid meat, and other places we’ve evolved to avoid.

Despite smelling like something that’s long-dead, durian still attracts passionate fans with its fruity taste and custardy texture. If you’ve never had durian before, check out the full video from Reactions below and decide whether or not it’s worth a taste.

[h/t Reactions]

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9 Facts about Physicist Michael Faraday, the 'Father of Electricity'
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A self-taught scientist, Michael Faraday (1791-1867) excelled in chemistry and physics to become one of the most influential thinkers in history. He’s been called the "father of electricity," (Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison also wear that crown) and his appetite for experimenting knew no bounds. "Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature; and in such things as these, experiment is the best test of such consistency," he wrote. Faraday discovered laws of electromagnetism, invented the first electric motor, and built the first electric generator—paving the way for our mechanized age. Read on for more Faraday facts.

1. HE NEVER HAD A FORMAL SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION.

Born in south London in a working-class family, Faraday earned a rudimentary education in reading, writing, and math. When he turned 14 he was apprenticed to a London bookbinder for the following seven years. In his free time, Faraday read Jane Marcet's Conversations in Chemistry, an 1806 bestseller that explained scientific topics for a general audience.

2. HE WAS A SELF-STARTER.

Like Marcet, Faraday was fascinated by the work of Sir Humphry Davy, a charismatic chemist who had found fame by testing the effects of nitrous oxide on himself. (He let others, including poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, inhale the gas on the condition that they keep diaries of their thoughts and sensations while high.) In spring 1812, a customer at the bookbindery gave Faraday tickets to see Davy’s upcoming lectures. Faraday compiled his notes from the lectures in a bound volume (the one benefit of his toil at the bookbinder's) and sent the book to Davy, requesting to become his assistant—an unheard-of notion for a tradesman with no university degree. Sensing his intelligence and drive, Davy secured him a job at the Royal Institution, where Davy ran the chemistry lab.

3. HE INVENTED A MOTOR WITH MAGNETS AND MERCURY.

By 1820, other scientists had shown that an electric current produces a magnetic field, and that two electrified wires produce a force on each other. Faraday thought there could be a way to harness these forces in a mechanical apparatus. In 1822, he built a device using a magnet, liquid mercury (which conducts electricity) and a current-carrying wire that turned electrical energy into mechanical energy—in other words, the first electric motor. Faraday noted the success in his journal [PDF]: "Very satisfactory, but make more sensible apparatus."

4. HE ALSO CREATED THE FIRST ELECTRIC GENERATOR.

A decade after his breakthrough with the motor, Faraday discovered that the movement of a wire through a stationary magnetic field can induce an electrical current in the wire—the principle of electromagnetic induction. To demonstrate it, Faraday built a machine in which a copper disc rotated between the two poles of a horseshoe magnet, producing its own power. The machine, later called the Faraday disc, became the first electric generator.

5. HE SHOWED THE PULL OF MAGNETIC FORCE.

In a brilliantly simple experiment (recreated by countless schoolchildren today), Faraday laid a bar magnet on a table and covered it with a piece of stiff paper. Then he sprinkled magnetized iron shavings across the paper, which immediately arranged themselves into semicircular arcs emanating from the ends—the north and south poles—of the magnet. In addition to revealing that magnets still exert pull through barriers, he visualized the pattern of magnetic force in space.

6. YOU CAN VISIT HIS MAGNETIC LABORATORY IN LONDON.

Faraday served in a number of scientific roles at the Royal Institution, an organization dedicated to promoting applied science. Eventually Faraday was appointed as its Fullerian Professor of Chemistry, a permanent position that allowed him to research and experiment to his heart's content. His magnetic laboratory from the 1850s is now faithfully replicated in the Royal Institution's Faraday Museum. It displays many of his world-changing gadgets, including an original Faraday disc, one of his early electrostatic generators, his chemical samples, and a giant magnet.

7. HE POPULARIZED NEW SCIENTIFIC TERMINOLOGY.

Faraday's work was so groundbreaking that no descriptors existed for many of his discoveries. With his fellow scientist William Whewell, Faraday coined a number of futuristic-sounding names for the forces and concepts he identified, such as electrode, anode, cathode, and ion. (Whewell himself coined the word "scientist" in 1834, after "natural philosopher" had become too vague to describe people working in increasingly specialized fields.)

8. PRINCE ALBERT GAVE HIM SOME SWEET REAL ESTATE.

In 1848, the Prince Consort, also known as Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert, gave Faraday and his family a comfortable home at Hampton Court—not the royal palace, but near it—free of charge, to recognize his contributions to science. The house at 37 Hampton Court Road was renamed Faraday House until he died there on August 25, 1867. Now it's known simply by its street address.

9. HE WAS FEATURED ON THE UNITED KINGDOM'S £20 NOTE.

To honor Faraday's role in the advancement of British science, the Bank of England unveiled a £20 bill with his portrait on June 5, 1991. He joined an illustrious group of Britons with their own notes, including William Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale, and Isaac Newton. By the time it was withdrawn in February 2001, the bank estimated that about 120 million Faraday bills were in circulation (that's more than 2 billion quid).

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