Seaweeds help curb cow burping

Asparagopsis grows off the Queensland coast. Photo: Wikipedia
Asparagopsis grows off the Queensland coast. Photo: Wikipedia
Queensland researchers say a pink seaweed that stops cows from burping could help slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Asparagopsis grows prolifically off the Queensland coast and a CSIRO study five years ago found it was the only seaweed they knew of that stopped cows burping methane into the atmosphere.

New Zealand research into seaweed supplements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has identified another species with such effects on the nation's coast.

Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast are now investigating how it might be farmed on a commercial scale and added to cattle feed to slash emissions.

Associate Prof Nick Paul said Australia's emissions could be cut by 10% if every cow in Australia was fed the seaweed.

"Seaweed is something that cows are known to eat. They will actually wander down to the beach and have a bit of a nibble,'' Dr Paul, of the university's Seaweed Research Group, said.

"When added to cow feed, at less than 2% of the dry matter, this particular seaweed completely knocks out methane production.''

The seaweed contains chemicals that reduce the microbes in the cows' stomachs that cause them to burp when they eat grass.

Dr Paul said global interest in the seaweed was high and the CSIRO's goal now was to work out how to sustainably farm enough of the particular seaweed to supplement cattle feed on a national, or even global scale.

As well, scientist Ana Wegner said efforts were focused on how to produce seaweed with greater concentrations of the chemical that stopped cows from producing so much gas.

Efforts were also focused on how to move crops from the lab to large outdoor aquaculture tanks.

Dr Paul said agriculture accounted for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and methane was a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, having "28 times the heating potential of CO2''.

"If we're able to work out how to scale up the seaweed to a level that can feed all of the cows and the sheep and the goats around the world then it's ... a huge impact on the climate.''

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