Ben & Jerry's Built an Ice Cream Factory That Runs on Ice Cream

For the last year and a half, Ben and Jerry's says its factory in the Netherlands has been churning out ice-cream powered ice cream.

Image: Ben & Jerry's

For the last year and a half, Ben & Jerry's says its factory in the Netherlands has been churning out ice-cream powered ice cream. The hippie-affiliated frozen desert outfit claims it has pioneered a biogas technology that converts waste generated during the ice cream production process into energy that then helps power the factory. In keeping with a company whose best-known ice cream flavors is Cherry Garcia, it is called 'the Chunkinator.'

Last year, Ben & Jerry's said it produced 16 million pints of new ice cream using the machine, which apparently is officially called the BIOPAQ®AFR Biodigester. It uses an anaerobic floatation reactor that breaks down the particles of excess milk, cream, syrup, and fruit in tank filled with microbes.

The waste is converted into biogas, which is used to create electricity. The factory's wastewater is also diverted into the tank. According to the company, this is where the innovation lies: "The innovation comes from wastewater streams that contain fat and oil being treated in one compact reactor, together with the degradable particles—whereas in conventional systems this is only possible by going through a number of processing stages," it says.

If it works as well as the company says it does—I am not currently in the Netherlands to see the machine for myself, and requests for comment from the project's head engineer were not immediately met—the machine should significantly reduce energy and heat costs, and should be examined and considered by other food processing companies.

The factory began construction in the Dutch city of Hellendoorn, which was previously most notable for its amusement park, in 2010. Now, the Chunkinator is evidently fully operational, and will bolster the city's reputation as the first place where ice cream begets ice cream begets ice cream, ad infinitum, at least until its operators have Half Baked-induced heart attacks.