Thursday, November 30, 2023

Seaweed backed as a gas-buster

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A project to assess the potential for seaweed to be used as a cattle food additive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been given Government backing despite past concerns about a potential negative environmental side effect.
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The Cawthron Institute will get $100,000 from the Government’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund to add to its $150,000 to look at the potential for turning Asparagopsis armata, a native red seaweed, into a greenhouse gas-busting cattle feed supplement for domestic and global markets.

It will research the effect of Asparagopsis on greenhouse gas emissions and develop an early proof-of-concept of production systems needed to develop a feed supplement at pilot-scale. If successful, the project will provide impetus for future work.

Cawthron is collaborating with Australian and Waikato University researchers.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the research could be a game-changer for farmers.

“In previous trials Asparagopsis has proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in livestock by up to 80%. Other products typically provide reductions of between 10% and 20%.

“Australian research estimates that if just 10% of global ruminant producers adopted Asparagopsis as an additive to feed their livestock it would have the same impact for our climate as removing 50 million cars from the world’s roads.”

As a feed supplement, any commercial product that is developed from the research is likely to picked up by dairy farmers rather than sheep and beef farmers who run extensive hill country operations, but O’Connor said there is potential for it to be effectively used in all ruminants.

It would not be the only answer for farmers, rather one more tool in a whole box of methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

The funding is also a potential boon for the aquaculture industry, worth $600 million a year with 3000 jobs.

O’Connor said aquaculture could play a more significant role in the NZ economy.

Traditionally, the industry has been focused on only a small number of species and broadening its base will build on that.

Possible domestic demand for a new feed supplement could be hundreds of tonnes a year, resulting in new jobs from harvesting and processing the seaweed.

In the past NZ scientists have been wary of using bromoform from seaweed because the chemical is ozone depleting.

Last year Dr Andy Reisinger from the NZ Greenhouse Gas Research Centre said seaweed production of bromoform runs the risk of the chemical leaking into the atmosphere because it cannot be controlled in a seaweed farm.

AgResearch principal research scientist Dr Peter Janssen said NZ researchers do not use the compound because of its known environmental impact.

The Ministry of Primary Industries was asked whether it is comfortable with funding a project to reduce methane emissions by using a chemical that harms the ozone layer, whether it accepts bromoform reduces the ozone layer and whether it thinks the effects can be mitigated.

It had not replied at press time.

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