It turns out that burping can be big business. Billionaire Bill Gates has announced an investment in Australian start-up Rumin8, which is developing an algae-based feed to reduce methane emissions from cows through their burps and to a lesser extent farts.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. It’s shorter in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but it has it 84 times more global warming potential over a period of 20 years. Nearly one third of global methane emissions come from livestock and most of it from beef and dairy cows.
Microbes in cows’ stomachs produce methane when the animals digest food, but adding algae to their feed has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of gas released to warm the planet. A 2021 study found that feeding cows small amounts of seaweed over several months reduced methane emissions by more than 80%.
Rumin8 produces a feed additive from the bioactive ingredient in red algae (Asparagopsis). The company said laboratory tests showed the additive could reduce methane emissions by up to 95%.
Rather than growing the seaweed, the company reproduces the ingredient in a lab, meaning costs can be kept relatively low. The additive goes into cow feed and the company is aiming to make it in capsule form as well.
A spokesman for Gates fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the led the $12 million investment round, CNN said: “Although cows play a significant role [greenhouse gas] As a source, livestock farming remains one of the cheapest sources of protein globally, meaning technologies that can reduce emissions from the existing cattle supply chain, now and in the future, are critical.”
Rumin8 said it has further investment from two climate funds and is aiming to have small batches of food available in stores by the end of the year.
One criticism leveled at solutions such as methane-reducing feed additives is that they can distract from addressing the root causes of livestock’s climate problem, including the vast amount of land required to raise animals and grow crops for their feed will.
Rumin8 CEO David Messina said cows remain an important source of protein for billions. “Our solution is global and will provide both developed and developing countries with a methane-reducing product that will have a massive impact on global emissions from agriculture,” he told CNN via email.
Some countries are considering legislation to reduce methane emissions from livestock. This was announced by the New Zealand government in October Plans to tax farmers for burping their animals to encourage them to reduce emissions.