Feeding cows seaweed drastically reduces their emissions

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At Straus Dairy Farm on the California coast north of San Francisco, there’s a protracted historical past of sustainability. Cow poop is changed into electrical energy that powers the farm, together with an electrical truck that delivers cattle feed. The household farm, which goals to be carbon impartial by 2023, launched the primary organic creamery within the nation, and was additionally the primary make a “carbon farm” plan, working with college researchers to review the local weather advantages of strategies like including compost to soil. This summer time, it additionally grew to become the location of the primary business trial of a brand new resolution: including crimson seaweed to cattle feed to assist cut back emissions from cow burps.

Within the trial, emissions of methane—a potent greenhouse gasoline—dropped by a median of 52%. For some cows, methane emissions from burps fell by as a lot as 90%. The outcomes echo what researchers present in managed research at universities. The seaweed works as a result of it accommodates compounds that mimic the enzymes that kind methane in a cow’s abdomen because it breaks down meals. “It interferes with that enzyme, and that reduces emissions,” says Ermias Kebreab, a professor and affiliate dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on the College of California, Davis, who research seaweed’s influence in cows.

[Photo: courtesy Straus Creamery]

Blue Ocean Barns, a Hawaii-based seaweed startup that partnered with Straus on the trial, is rising crimson seaweed, or Asparagopsis taxiformis, in tanks close to the shore crammed with ocean water. “We’re rising vertically, and so forth a really small footprint we are able to generate plenty of biomass, as a result of we’re not restricted by the floor of the ocean in any respect,” says Joan Salwen, the startup’s CEO. “We’re additionally harvesting constantly.” The species of seaweed grows naturally off the Hawaiian coast—and is eaten by people—however within the ocean, it’s tough to develop and harvest at a big scale. In ocean farming, just one horizontal layer of seaweed can develop at a time, it grows seasonally, and excessive climate can damage the crop.

Salwen, who beforehand labored in schooling and consulting, started researching the problem of methane in dairy manufacturing in 2016 in an interdisciplinary program for professionals at Stanford College, after which as a visiting scholar within the college’s environmental sciences division. The issue is important: Within the U.S., round 35% of the emissions from dairy cows and their cattle feed comes from cow burps. In a 12 months, the emissions from a single cow’s burps are roughly equal to the emissions from a typical automobile. As she examine the issue, Salwen stumbled throughout a research from an Australian college that hadn’t but been revealed in a serious journal, however that instructed feeding seaweed to cattle might assist. She helped fund extra analysis, and when it grew to become clear that seaweed could possibly be a useful gizmo, she cofounded the startup and started engaged on learn how to develop the plant effectively.


[Photo: courtesy Straus Creamery]

“We’ve had the suitable companions for 2 years to be taught concerning the plant—its life cycle, its progress circumstances, what helps it thrive, and, particularly, what helps it very effectively and abundantly synthesize the important oils which might be most vital in knocking out methane,” Salwen says. It’s not simple to develop, and in the mean time provide is proscribed. However the firm has a course of that ought to have the ability to scale up. “We’ve developed a scalable, replicable cultivation system that makes this significant on a world scale and reasonably priced as a feed additive for cows,” she says.

[Photo: courtesy Straus Creamery]

On the Straus farm, cows got the seaweed complement in their feed in the course of the summer time. (Within the California local weather, as a result of it doesn’t rain in the summertime, grass dies and cows are taken off pasture, requiring different meals.) Some cows appeared to love the seaweed greater than others; these cows additionally had higher reductions in methane emissions. All of the cows adjusted, nevertheless, and farmer Albert Straus says that in common feeding, it might be attainable to combine within the seaweed in a manner that may be extra palatable than it was in the course of the trial. The trial additionally checked out whether or not the seaweed affected milk manufacturing, and located no statistical distinction within the management group of cows. It additionally discovered that the seaweed didn’t have an effect on the style of the milk.

“We did a blind tasting on the creamery, with high quality assurance folks, to make it possible for the flavour was the identical or there was no noticeable distinction,” Straus says. “There was no distinction. That may have been a deal breaker. I can’t have milk that’s totally different or fishy or seaweedy.” Straus now plans to make use of seaweed as a part of his broader strategy to creating his milk carbon impartial.

In 2022, Blue Ocean Barns plans to maintain working with dairy farms—and bigger dairy manufacturers which have aggressive targets to chop emissions—to exhibit that the answer works. It’s one thing that could possibly be carried out rapidly, Salwen says, noting, “That is out there proper now. . . . Our materials’s being utilized in quite a few trials in Europe and different locations to actually rapidly scale this up. And it really works. On the primary day you give it to a cow, her burps begin abating instantly. And it lasts so long as you feed it to her.”