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Agriculture Researchers at James Cook University in Australia have found that cows fed a diet of algae have lower levels of methane in their farts.

Published on December 31st, 2009 | by Tina Casey

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Algae Diet Could Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Cows

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December 31st, 2009 by  

Researchers at James Cook University in Australia have found that cows fed a diet of algae have lower levels of methane in their farts.Cow farts are emerging as a major source of the greenhouse gas methane, but scientists in Australia may be on to a simple way to nip that in the bud. Preliminary studies are showing that feeding “algae cakes” to cows results in a significant reduction in their methane emissions.

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As reported in The Australian, a team of researchers at James Cook University anticipates a sustainable quadruple whammy from the new bovine diet: algae absorbs more carbon dioxide than other plants, it can be grown as a natural water cleanser for fish farms, it can be harvested as a biofuel crop, and the leftover “cake” produces an anti-methane effect on cattle.

Algae Diet Cuts Greenhouse Gasses

The James Cook researchers note that the world’s domesticated cattle population accounts for up to 20% of methane emissions related to human activity, so in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, cow farts are no small potatoes.  In developing countries cattle can account for an even larger proportion of greenhouse gas emissions.  The issue is particularly significant in tropic zones, where the deterioration of pasture in the winter months results in poor fodder, which in turn leads to an increase in methane emissions.  The theory behind using algae is that cows can digest it more easily, because it contains more starch and less cellulose than conventional fodder.

The “Beef and Reef” Algae Connection

Along with cutting methane emissions from cows, the researchers hope to protect the Inner Great Barrier Reef from excess nitrogen and phosphorus by promoting sustainable bioremediation at fish farms and other aquaculture operations (bioremediation uses plants to absorb pollutants rather than chemicals).  Some aquaculturists resist bioremediation because it leaves them with massive quantities of biomass to dispose of.  The widespread use of algae as cattle fodder could turn this liability into a profit center.  To that end, the researchers are testing their cows on two species of green tide algae, Cladophora coelothrix and Chaetomorpha indicia, which were selected for their superior performance in bioremediation.

Other Methane Solutions

The livestock emissions issue is particularly acute in New Zealand, where methane from sheep and cows accounts for about half the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Researchers there are exploring an anti-methane vaccine.  Meanwhile, a team in Ireland has found that fish oil can be an effective anti-methane fodder additive.

Image: Cow by foxypar4 on flickr.com.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • http://www.uspassportnow.com/ Kristen

    An anti-methane vaccine? How would that work. I think the algae solution sounds like a better natural plan to me.

  • http://www.uspassportnow.com/ Kristen

    An anti-methane vaccine? How would that work. I think the algae solution sounds like a better natural plan to me.

  • http://www.uspassportnow.com/ Kristen

    An anti-methane vaccine? How would that work. I think the algae solution sounds like a better natural plan to me.

  • Larry Whetstone

    Could be that because we are on the other side of the world from Australia that the methane from cows comes out in their exhaled breath.That was the reason they quit smoking .

  • Larry Whetstone

    Could be that because we are on the other side of the world from Australia that the methane from cows comes out in their exhaled breath.That was the reason they quit smoking .

  • Larry Whetstone

    Could be that because we are on the other side of the world from Australia that the methane from cows comes out in their exhaled breath.That was the reason they quit smoking .

  • http://www.axiomaticview.com GT

    Pastured cows produce less gas. Corn fed feed lot machine-meat production is the problem. Vegetarianism is not an answer. Reduction in consumption and organic, natural food production methods are the solutions.

  • http://www.axiomaticview.com GT

    Pastured cows produce less gas. Corn fed feed lot machine-meat production is the problem. Vegetarianism is not an answer. Reduction in consumption and organic, natural food production methods are the solutions.

  • Ben

    While this is nice and all, it still seems the best bet is to just cut meat out of our diets.

    Methane is only one of the many, many, environmental problems that the meat industry plagues us with (not to mention health and ethical issues).

    This list of 101 reasons to go vegetarian pretty much sums it all up (notice methane only appears as 1 item here).

    http://www.flex.com/~jai/articles/101.html

  • Ben

    While this is nice and all, it still seems the best bet is to just cut meat out of our diets.

    Methane is only one of the many, many, environmental problems that the meat industry plagues us with (not to mention health and ethical issues).

    This list of 101 reasons to go vegetarian pretty much sums it all up (notice methane only appears as 1 item here).

    http://www.flex.com/~jai/articles/101.html

  • JJ

    Yes the vegans got to come out and tell us to cut meat out of our diets. That will not happen so get over it.

    However different animals have wildly varying methane emissions with cattle at the top, and chickens near the bottom. Personally I eat far more chicken, fish than beef so am less concerned.

    The solutions mentioned in the article seem far more practical.

    BTW these caw farts are really cow burps.

  • JJ

    Yes the vegans got to come out and tell us to cut meat out of our diets. That will not happen so get over it.

    However different animals have wildly varying methane emissions with cattle at the top, and chickens near the bottom. Personally I eat far more chicken, fish than beef so am less concerned.

    The solutions mentioned in the article seem far more practical.

    BTW these caw farts are really cow burps.

  • Ben

    While this is nice and all, it still seems the best bet is to just cut meat out of our diets.

    Methane is only one of the many, many, environmental problems that the meat industry plagues us with (not to mention health and ethical issues).

    This list of 101 reasons to go vegetarian pretty much sums it all up (notice methane only appears as 1 item here).

    http://www.flex.com/~jai/articles/101.html

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