It turns out burping can be a big deal. Billionaire Bill Gates has announced an investment in Australian start-up Rumin8, which is developing seaweed-based feed to reduce methane emissions produced by cows belching and, to a lesser extent, farting.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Although it is shorter in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it has 84 times the global warming potential over a 20-year period. Almost one-third of global methane emissions come from livestock, with most from cattle and dairy cows.
Microbes in cows’ stomachs produce methane as the animals digest their food, but when seaweed is added to their food, it has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of the planet-warming gas released. A 2021 study found that feeding cows small amounts of seaweed over several months reduced their methane emissions by more than 80%.
Rumin8 produces a feed additive from a bioactive ingredient found in red seaweed (Asparagopsis). The company said that laboratory tests have shown that the additive can reduce methane emissions by up to 95%.
Instead of growing seaweed, the company reproduces the ingredient in a lab, which it says means costs can be kept relatively low. The supplement goes into cow feed, and the company also aims to produce it in capsule form.
A spokesman for Gates’ fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which led the $12 million investment round, told CNN: “Although cows are a significant [greenhouse gas] The source, livestock remains one of the cheapest sources of protein globally, meaning that technologies that can reduce emissions from the existing livestock supply chain today and in the future are critical.”
Rumin8 said he has additional investments from two climate funds and aims to have small quantities of food commercially available by the end of the year.
One criticism leveled at solutions such as feed additives to reduce methane is that they can distract from addressing the root causes of livestock’s climate problems, including the vast amount of land required to raise animals and grow crops for their food.
Rumin8 CEO David Messina said cows are still an important source of protein for billions. “Our solution is global and will provide both developed and developing countries with a methane reduction product that will have a huge impact on global agricultural emissions,” he told CNN via email.
Some countries are exploring legislation to reduce methane emissions from livestock. In October, the New Zealand government announced plans to tax farmers for belching from their animals, to encourage them to reduce emissions.