BY: SAMANTHA TAPP
The biggest nuisance on the beach, seaweed, may be our next environmental saviour. New research in Australia discovered that if we were to add dried seaweed to two per cent of sheep and cattle feed, we could cut methane emissions by more than 70 per cent. That would be huge; it would actually be the equivalent of eliminating the entirety of India’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Rocky De Nys, a professor at James Cook University, has been in charge of the research to develop the seaweed-infused feed that could help fight climate change. Livestock is responsible for 44 per cent of man-made methane, a gas the is 36 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. Contrary to popular belief, only 10% of the gas comes from cattle farting, the real issue is the 90% that comes from cattle burping. A solution to the methane issue could cut out a huge part of the 3.1 gigatonnes these animals release into the atmosphere annually.
To give you an idea of how big 3.1 gigatonnes is, the entire European Union releases just over that amount of CO2 each year (keep in mind that methane is much more harmful than CO2).
This isn’t a new issue, as a previous study found that cattle are responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which methane accounts for most of. To put it in perspective, cows actually contribute to global warming more than cars, planes, and all other transportations modes combined.
The latest breakthrough has come with the discovery of a local Australian seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis. Before this discovery, De Nys and his research team tested 20 different types of seaweed that were known to help digestion. They found that Asparagopsis taxiformis is the most effective by reducing methane production by more than 99 per cent.
“We have results already with whole sheep; we know that if Asparagopsis is fed to sheep at 2 per cent of their diet, they produce between 50 and 70 per cent less methane over a 72-day period continuously, so there is already a well-established precedent,” said De Nys to ABC News.
They conducted their research using an artificial cow stomach, that kind of works like a compost bin. The team is working with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to begin the testing on living cows, expecting the results to match the ones from the lab.
Seaweed seems like an easy fix, being as it’s a fast-growing and sustainable harvested plant, but it’s estimated that to cover just Australia’s livestock, there would need to be about 6,000 hectares of seaweed farms (or about 6 1/2 soccer fields worth of seaweed). So as per usual, innovation is not the problem, but funding is.