Researchers have found that a common seaweed could reduce cow burps, and Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent.
This thought-provoking article would be suited to students studying Biological Sciences, Chemical Sciences or Earth and Space Sciences in years 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.
Word Count / Video Length: 562 / 1:48 min
A puffy, pink seaweed that can stop cow burps that contain methane is being primed for mass farming by researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC).
Lead researcher, Nick Paul from the University’s Seaweed Research group says that if Australia could grow enough of the seaweed for every cow in Australia, the country could cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent.
Cow burps play a huge role in our greenhouse gas emissions
At the start of this year, National Geographic reports that there were approximately 1.4 billion cattle in the world, with the number growing quickly.
Research suggests that a single cow, on average, releases 70 to 120 kgs of methane per year. Together, with other livestock, they contribute 40 per cent of the annual methane budget.
Methane is a byproduct, produced by one of the microbes in cows digestive system that is responsible for breaking down their food.
“If we can work out ways to stop cows producing methane, then this will have a really big impact on our global greenhouse gas emissions,” says Paul.
A common seaweed could be an answer
The particular seaweed species, called Asparagopsis, grows prolifically off the Queensland Coast, and was the only seaweed found to have the effect in a study five years ago led by CSIRO.
“Right here on the Sunshine Coast, its like an epicentre of biodiversity for this one type of seaweed…” says Paul.
According to Paul, seaweed is something that cows are known to eat, so while the addition to their diet isn’t drastic, the results are.
“When added to cow feed at less than two percent of the dry matter, this particular seaweed completely knocks out methane production. It contains chemicals that reduce the microbes in the cows’ stomachs that cause them to burp when they eat grass.”
“It’s going to address a whole lot of carbon-neutral agendas that different countries have and it’s ultimately going to save us all billions of dollars.”
Scaling up the seaweed production
The USC team is working at the Bribie Island Research Centre in Moreton Bay to learn more about how to grow the seaweed species, with the goal of informing a scale-up of production that could supplement cow feed on a national or even global scale.
“This seaweed has caused a lot of global interest and people around the world are working to make sure the cows are healthy, the beef and the milk are good quality,” Paul says.
“That’s all happening right now. But the one missing step, the big thing that is going to make sure this works at a global scale, is to make sure we can produce the seaweed sustainably.”
“If we’re able to work out how to scale up the seaweed, to become at a level that can feed all of the cows and the sheep and the goats around the world, then it’s going to have a huge impact on the climate. ”
Ana Wegner, also on the research team, says the challenge was to find the perfect growing conditions to move crops from the laboratory to large outdoor aquaculture tanks.
“We know the chemical composition of Asparagopsis and we know the chemical compounds that actually reduce methane production in cows, so now we want to maximise the concentration of that chemical so we can use less seaweed for the same effect,” she says.
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