Sunday 24 March 2019

Could feeding cattle seaweed help reduce methane emissions?

Scoil Mhuire students take part in SEAI competition

Maria Herlihy

Could seaweed eating cows help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the world from climate change?

Two Scoil Mhuire students, Sinead O’Neill and Hagar Soliman believe the science behind bovines chewing seaweed and will now produce a one minute video and give presentations to showcase their belief.

The two students have been selected as one of the top teams who will advance to the next stage of the ‘One Good Idea’ competition which is run by Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). Noreen Gillis, a teacher of science, chemistry and physics said the annual SEAI competition was something which both of her students were very interested in.

Sinead O’Neill who comes from a beef farm told The Corkman that from their study they have found that if cows eat dry seaweed there is a 30 per cent reduction in methane. She said that methane is a gas responsible for around a quarter of man-made global warming.

However, she said a compound found in some seaweed disrupts enzymes used by the microbes to produce methane.

Seaweed cultivation can be undertaken without land, fresh water or fertiliser and it is regarded as an appealing supplement not only because of its gas limiting effects but because it is easy to grow.

“There is a lot of seaweed in Ireland and so far Irish farmers do not feed seaweed to their cattle,” said Sinead.

Fellow student, Hagar Soliman said she has loved science since national school and jumped at the chance to do the project submission for the SEAI competition.

She also read previous published papers which looked into the reduction of methane. “A study done in California found cows who ate seaweed the result was a 38% reduction in methane production. However, in Australia that figure was even higher, when cows had red algae there was a reduction of 99 per cent,” she said.

She said there is an abundance of seaweed in Ireland and it is widely used in the cosmetic industry.

Methane is created in cattle production when cows pass gas, belch and defecate. While methane can be short-lived as a climate pollutant, it is considered at least 25 time more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.

The students will now prepare a one minute video on their study along with undertaking a promotional campaign on-line for the next stage of the competition.