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Happy Earth Day! Scientists Working to Reduce Methane Emissions

Posted by Scott Elliott, Public Affairs Specialist, Agricultural Research Service in Research and Science
Apr 22, 2022
Dairy cows feeding

As we celebrate our planet this Earth Day, we highlight ongoing research being conducted at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) exploring how a seaweed species could potentially reduce methane emissions in livestock production.

According to NASA, it is a misconception farm flatulence leads to excess atmospheric methane. In fact, the natural, digestive regurgitation and belches from livestock ruminants contribute most to environmental methane emissions. Ruminants are grazing animals with digestive systems that ferment the cellulose in grasses and other vegetation they eat. Methane gas is released as a fermentation byproduct.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says methane accounts for about 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — and enteric (intestinal) fermentation accounts for approximately 2.7% of that. To help this issue, scientists are turning to a seaweed compound called bromoform, which could reduce enteric methane emissions by as much as 82% when fed to ruminants as a small portion of their diet.

Studies are underway to determine the seaweed species with the greatest potential to reduce methane. Researchers at the USDA-ARS U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center plan to include seaweed as part of dairy cattle’s diet to evaluate both lactation performance and enteric methane emissions. Expanding this nutritional supplement nationwide, and perhaps globally, could markedly reduce methane emissions, and that’s something worth boasting—not belching—about this Earth Day.

Category/Topic: Research and Science