A town in southern Quebec is changing the way it looks at yogurt.
Saint-Hyacinthe signed an agreement with Yoplait Liberté last week to transform expired and unusable yogurt into natural gas that it says will be able to heat municipal buildings and power a fleet of city-owned vehicles.
Brigitte Massé, the city’s communications director, said a total of 6,500 metric tones of yogurt will be transformed over the course of one year into 375,000 cubic metres of natural gas at a city-run biomethanation facility.
Biomethanation is a process through which organic matter and waste is converted into gas after being heated at high temperatures.
“The production of that 6,500 cubic metres of yogurt will allow us to heat our two largest arenas and aquatics centre in Saint-Hyacinthe for a year with natural gas,” Massé told the Toronto Star in a phone interview Wednesday.
The material will come from a local Yoplait Liberté factory and can include expired yogurt or unsellable organic residue derived from the yogurt-making process, she said.
Liberté Canada spokesperson Jenny Chiasson told the Star the company was not commenting on the project.
Saint-Hyacinthe is a town of about 55,000 residents less than an hour east of Montreal in a largely agricultural area.
It already recuperates 25,000 metric tones of organic material annually, Massé said.
Residents of Saint-Hyacinthe and 22 other municipalities in the region have collected organic matter for composting since 2007 and Saint-Hyacinthe introduced biomethanation at a city-run factory in 2010, Massé said.
Massé said the facility initially cost $48 million to build and was financed by the town with contributions from the federal and Quebec governments.
“We saw that it worked so well and that we were saving a lot on transportation costs,” she said. “We were becoming self-sufficient: we were heating our factory with the results.”
Saint-Hyacinthe won a Sustainable Communities Award on Wednesday from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for its biomethanation project.
After separating it from plastic containers, the yogurt will be heated in cisterns at 37.5 Celsius for 26 days at the factory. The natural gas produced will then go to heat municipal buildings and power city-owned vehicles.
The city will sell any surplus to Gaz Métro, a natural gas distributor in Quebec, Massé said.
“The advantage of biomethanation is that it’s a solution that’s environmental and is also profitable for a city,” said Massé, adding that Saint-Hyacinthe has received calls from towns across Quebec and the northeastern U.S. asking about the process.
“We transformed a problem into a solution that is profitable. The citizens are very, very proud of this initiative.”