How a seaweed supplement can eliminate most emissions from cows and sheep

An Australian company will fast-track the commercialisation of a locally discovered seaweed supplement that could be the key to almost entirely solving the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production, after securing financial backing from the federal government.

Sea Forest has secured a $1 million commercialisation grant from the federal government to fast track the production of the innovative seaweed product, produced from a form of edible seaweed called asparagopsis.

Asparagopsis was identified by a CSIRO-led research team, which discovered its ability to significantly reduce the amount of methane produced by cows and sheep when added to their diets, almost entirely eliminating the production of the potent greenhouse gas.

The seaweed was discovered to be native to the waters off Tasmania, and Sea Forest is currently progressing plans to cultivate asparagopsis, so that it can be produced in commercial quantities for use by the agriculture industry.

Methane is the by-product of the rumination process that is used by animals like cows and sheep to digest grasses. The process involves the fermentation of grasses, including the enteric fermentation process which produces methane as a by-product, which is released into the atmosphere through burps.

The growing global production of sheep and cattle has emerged as a major challenge for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with methane having a global warming potential 28-times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Livestock is responsible for as much as one-sixth of global emissions.

The Asparagopsis feed supplement being developed by Sea Forest includes compounds that inhibit the processes that result in methane production, allowing cattle to be raised without the associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The company, which is headquartered in Sydney, said that it had already received substantial interest from major retail chains and agricultural producers.

“This Commercialisation Grant will fast track our ability to scale and supply our Asparagopsis seaweed supplement to farms across Australia and globally. Since the world-leading CSIRO research has come out, the demand by farmers and large scale livestock producers has been incredible,” CEO of Sea Forest Sam Elsom said.

“From Woolworths, to Fonterra, leading companies want to be able to tell their customers that their products are actually low-carbon.”

The company has developed a dietary supplement derived from the Asparagopsis, which can reduce the production of methane in cattle and sheep production by as much as 98 per cent when the supplement replaces just 0.2 per cent of their diet.

Not only does the supplement reduce the production of greenhouse gases, but Sea Forest also said that because of the amount of energy lost in the process of converting food to methane, as much as 20 per cent of a cow’s energy intake, significantly less feedstock would be needed to raise cattle.

“Producing the Asparagopsis is also a gamechanger for our oceans – it de-acidifies the water, stripping out the carbon dioxide. In effect, the water will be pumped back into the ocean cleaner than when it came in,” Elsom added.

Sea Forest has already secured some high profile early investors, including Mick Fanning, Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake and founder of Toms shoes, Blake Mycoskie, and has already secured a partnership agreement with New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra.

The announcement of the grant comes soon after a number of federal Nationals expressed opposition to the adoption of stronger emissions reduction targets, and suggested that industries like agriculture should be carved out of any measures to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The opposition to greater climate action, which had been expressed by backbenchers including Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan, Bridget McKenzie, and party leader Michael McCormack, has been slammed by a number of groups representing the farming sector, which have argued that there are huge opportunities to be created within the sector by addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

The seaweed supplement being developed by Sea Forest, with its ability to almost entirely eliminate emissions from sheep and cattle production, could tap into a huge global agricultural market. The Australian Seaweed Institute estimates that the market for dietary supplements could grow to be worth as much as $1.5 billion a year by 2040, create as many as 9,000 jobs while driving a 10 per cent cut to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The commercialisation grant was provided as part of a wider $4.2 million in funding awarded under the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation grants program.

“Through this latest funding, we’re backing projects that will improve agricultural processes and reduce greenhouse emissions, all while growing a developing industry that will create jobs,” federal minister for industry, science and technology Karen Andrews said.

“Not only do these business ideas strengthen our economy, they are examples of Australian ingenuity helping make the world a better place.”

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