How CH4 Global is turning seaweed into fodder for farm ruminants – and hopes to cool the climate

Big  strides  are  being  made in the  development  of  a  seaweed-based   product  which,  it  is  claimed,  reduces  methane  emissions in ruminant animals  by up  to 90%.

The product, which its champions say could resolve New Zealand’s climate change threat  from  methane emissions  in  the nation’s  dairy  herd, has  been sold  for  the  first  time—-to  an  Australian customer.

It has been made by CH4 Global™, Inc., a company which says it is

”… on an urgent mission to address climate change by providing our seaweed-based Asparagopsis products to farmers worldwide so they can dramatically reduce the methane emissions of their livestock and realize significant value in the process.”

CH4 Global has its global headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, in the United States, and operations in Australia (CH4 Australia PTY Limited) and New Zealand (CH4 Aotearoa Limited).

It is rapidly developing a diverse partner network of Asparagopsis growers, while supporting farmers and fostering sustainable communities.

Whether  Agriculture Minister  Damien  O’Connor  is  bothered by the first sale of the product being to Australia, the company’s primary market initially, is  uncertain.  But he  was  gung-ho about  the prospects for  the  seaweed  product  when  he   secured a $100,000 grant for  research by  the  Cawthron Institute into  its  methane-reducing    capacity  back   in 2019.

In  any  case,  it  is the New Zealand  subsidiary which is establishing  an  “ecopark”  at  Ocean  Beach  in Southland  for its  proprietary Asparagopsis-based product for ruminant animals.

The initial sale is to CirPro, a leading Australian advanced protein manufacturer and meat processor, for use across its feedlot partners.

CH4 Global’s Australia and New Zealand operations will supply product formulated from Asparagopsis seaweed from both marine and tank cultivation.

“The long-term multi-million dollar commitment, with an option to further expand after the initial term, validates the company’s global production capability and is a substantial step towards meeting its ambitious global growth”,  the company said..

CH4 Global last  month announced the construction of  what  it called  its first EcoPark, an integrated facility for sustainable aquaculture

At that time, it  said  this facility, together with several EcoParks beginning construction in Australia this year, will enable large-scale commercial production of the company’s Asparagopsis-based animal supplements for enteric methane mitigation.

For the EcoPark near Bluff, CH4 Global is repurposing a brownfield site at Ocean Beach, a land-based aquaculture park that is on track to become the largest such park in NZ.

“‘Phase 1 kicks off this year with the beginning of construction, with full production by the middle of 2023. In Phase 2, the facility will be expanded to 500 bioreactors with the capacity to supply raw material required for the company’s feedlot formulation for up to 15,000 head of cattle”.

The Ocean Beach brownfield site is being upgraded to meet CH4 Global’s requirements.

A leading provider of recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) in the region, Fresh By Design, has been commissioned to design and construct the facility.

CH4 Aotearoa general manager Nigel Little, said:

“This is a key milestone in our path to full commercialisation. This EcoPark is proof of our ability to scale our technology on a sound commercial basis – both for us and for the farmers that use our product. It will be the first of many EcoParks planned over the next five years”.

CH4 Global’s methane-reduction roadmap includes a five-year target of reaching 150 million cattle — 10% of the world total — on all six habitable continents, which will prevent the emission of 1 gigaton of CO2 equivalent.

Plans for 2023 and 2024 are focussed on rapid commercial growth in Australia and New Zealand through Asparagopsis production by CH4 Australia and CH4 Aotearoa. Work is also well under way in North America to develop Asparagopsis production capacity there.

In 2024 the company will focus on expanding into the remaining habitable continents and the dairy sector to make a global impact on climate change, at scale, with urgency.

This initial commercial sale is a major milestone for CH4 Global’s mission to bend the climate curve.

Cassandra Kelly, Senior Advisor to FutureFeed, the holder of the patent on Asparagopsis methane-reduction efficacy claims, said,

The first commercial sale for CH4 Global was a significant milestone in the commercialisation of Asparagopsis. CH4 Global was one of the first to embrace the world-changing potential of Asparagopsis, and FutureFeed is delighted to learn of their first commercial sales. We look forward to the realisation of the significant global impact that this incrdible technology offers.”  

The chief science advisor at CH4 Michael Lakeman, told Newshub’s AM the seaweed is grown, dried out and fed in small amounts.

“Just a handful a day, that interacts with their stomachs and suppresses the production of methane. Up to 98 percent reduction in methane.”

Dr Lakeman said the reduction of methane would have a cooling effect on the climate.

He said the target market for the Ocean Beach product initially will be in Australia because many of the cattle in that country are feedlot cattle, not grazing cattle.

“The seaweed works well with feedlot cattle, so cows that are eating a controlled diet.”

He said his team is working on how the seaweed could work for cattle in a grazing system

Professor Jon Hickford, from Lincoln University’s faculty of agriculture and life sciences, said the technology would probably be useful in systems where it can be regularly fed to animals.  In NZ that means dairy cattle.

But it would be hard – if not impossible – to use the product effectively in an extensive rangeland sheep/beef system.

That raises the question of whether we can or will carry on feeding sheep and beef cattle on hill/high country.

“A product like this will be of little value in those systems,” Professor Hickford said.

“Balance that against perhaps housing sheep and cattle to enable the feeding of this supplement AND better quality feed, too, and we could gain both methane reduction and lift productivity (output per unit of input)”

But he muses:

  • Would our markets value an intensively indoor-raised product, and
  • What happens to all the plants/grasses in the hills that would otherwise be eaten?

“The answer, I suspect, is that people value and prefer grass-fed – with both its positive and negative welfare implications – and the grass/plants in the hills senesce and die-back over winter, breaking down to release methane and CO2 back into the atmosphere.”

 Long-lived products (such as wool and leather) are the only things that remove carbon from the farming system, whereas meat and milk are very short-term (” but enjoyable”) carbon sinks.

Housing sheep and beef cattle would mean we couldn’t feed them a lot of grass, which they harvest for themselves off our hills, Professor Hickford said.

“Instead, we would likely need to import feed (our hill country is typically too steep to cultivate or turn into baleage or silage).”

This means additional cost and a massive carbon footprint from shipping grain and other feed to NZ.

Added cost, potential supply chain issues, increased risk to biosecurity,and so on, suggest this is not a path NZ could or should go down with anything but our dairy herds, Professor Hickford said.

But the dairy cows would benefit.  

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