Scientists from the R&D firm Greener Grazing purpose to cut back world greenhouse fuel emissions by rising and advertising a pink seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) as an additive for livestock feed.Worldwide, some 3 billion cattle and sheep produce roughly 231 billion kilos of methane yearly; researchers estimate some 100 million tons of A. taxiformis could be wanted to remove 98% of these emissions, a determine that’s roughly thrice present world manufacturing of all seaweeds.Greener Grazing is experimenting with rising A. taxiformis in central Vietnam’s Van Phong Bay, however there are challenges.Skeptics additionally say the advantages of seaweed are restricted in each the quantity of methane that may be lowered in addition to the capability for scaling manufacturing to fulfill the scale of the issue.
VAN PHONG BAY, Vietnam — A daring mariculture experiment on this shimmering bay ringed by hills in central Vietnam is aiming to neutralize a globally important supply of greenhouse fuel (GHG) emissions.
An worldwide crew of scientists at Greener Grazing, an R&D firm, is rising a feathery, fern-like pink seaweed referred to as Asparagopsis taxiformis in a laboratory, with the purpose of transferring the seaweed into the bay to develop absolutely.
In idea, Greener Grazing would then disseminate this know-how to farmers around the globe, permitting native communities to develop, harvest and promote A. taxiformis for earnings as a local weather resolution.
This seaweed wouldn’t be for human consumption or use in cosmetics: It could be fed to livestock as a option to largely remove their methane emissions.
The problem, nonetheless, is immense. There are practically 3 billion cattle and sheep on the earth and Greener Grazing estimates about 100 million tons of A. taxiformis could be wanted as a feed additive yearly to remove 98% of the roughly 231 billion kilos of methane these livestock emit every year.
In 2019, 34.7 million tons of seaweed have been farmed globally — none of it A. taxiformis, based on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In this context, some researchers argue that this seaweed can not virtually be farmed at scale or have as giant an affect as its promoters counsel.
A view of Van Phong Bay, with conventional aquaculture pens within the distance. Image by Michael Tatarski for Mongabay.
The foundational analysis
Greener Grazing’s work stems from a sequence of key analysis papers. In the primary two, printed in 2014 and 2015, scientists at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, evaluated the affect of a complete of 20 seaweed species on methane manufacturing in vitro by incubating seaweed samples with rumen fluid from cattle. They zeroed in on A. taxiformis as the most effective performer, with concentrations as little as 2% resulting in a 99% drop in methane manufacturing within the 2015 paper.
The James Cook scientists then moved to in vivo analysis in collaboration with specialists from the Canberra-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). In 2016, they printed a paper exhibiting that A. taxiformis fed to reside sheep at concentrations starting from 0.5% to three% lowered methane manufacturing by as much as 80%.
By this level, these findings had caught the eye of Leonardo Mata, now Greener Grazing’s chief scientist, who had been a analysis fellow at James Cook from 2012 to 2014. He recalled considering the above outcomes have been “exceptional.”
The analysis additionally attracted Josh Goldman, CEO of Australis Aquaculture, a Massachusetts, U.S.-headquartered firm that’s the world’s largest farmed-barramundi producer. Goldman noticed an enormous potential enterprise alternative and created Greener Grazing as a completely owned subsidiary of Australis in 2018, with himself listed as venture chief. The firm operates out of Australis’s onshore analysis and manufacturing services on Van Phong Bay and makes use of house across the barramundi pens within the bay to experiment with the seaweed’s later life levels.
In 2020, specialists at James Cook and CSIRO delivered one other blockbuster paper, this time exhibiting that together with A. taxiformis in reside cattle feed at concentrations as little as 0.2% might remove as much as 98% of enteric methane manufacturing.
The implications of those outcomes are big.
According to the FAO, the livestock business is accountable for roughly 15% of world GHG emissions, largely due to enteric methane: cattle and sheep burping as they digest their feed. Methane, in flip, is 80 instances stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping warmth in Earth’s ambiance. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane is accountable for 1 / 4 of anthropogenic world warming.
Drawn by an increasing physique of Asparagopsis analysis, various firms are trying to deal with livestock emissions by way of seaweed in a commercially viable method. Greener Grazing’s friends embody Blue Ocean Barns and Symbrosia, each based mostly in Hawaii, Volta Greentech in Sweden, and SeaStock in Australia, every with their very own method. And along with its experiments in Vietnam, Greener Grazing additionally works with worldwide analysis companions, such because the Dutch seaweed breeding firm Hortimare.
Beakers containing A. taxiformis strains within the Greener Grazing hatchery. Image by Michael Tatarski for Mongabay.
Testing the flexibility of spores to connect to substrates for additional progress. Image by Michael Tatarski for Mongabay.
Strands of A. taxiformis rising in Greener Grazing’s nursery with the purpose of finally transferring them to the bay. Image by Michael Tatarski for Mongabay.
Greener Grazing additionally experiments with rising A. taxiformis in open-air tanks to evaluate its response to pure situations. Image by Michael Tatarski for Mongabay.
The analysis problem
In Van Phong, Mata and his crew develop A. taxiformis, an organism with a extremely advanced life cycle, by way of its preliminary life levels onshore.
The seaweed begins in beakers in a hatchery as tiny, razor-thin strands referred to as sporophytes (or extra exactly, tetrasporophytes). After the strands develop into fuzzy clumps, they’re moved to giant containers or tanks within the nursery. There, the spores they launch develop into strand-like gametophytes, the life stage that, when mature, is the algae’s feathery acquainted type.
The thought is that the younger gametophytes are then connected to ropes and transferred offshore to a web site adjoining to Australis’s fish pens to mature.
That ultimate life stage is probably the most difficult step, partially due to the situation. For half the 12 months, Van Phong Bay is just too sizzling for A. taxiformis to develop.
Mata mentioned his crew can solely try ocean manufacturing from November to March, because the species doesn’t develop properly in water above 29° Celsius (84° Fahrenheit). They are at present exploring places in northern Vietnam, the place the water is cooler, to proceed trials.
One analysis focus for Greener Grazing is a seed financial institution, which accommodates a library of roughly 800 A. taxiformis cultures from around the globe, because the seaweed is current in additional than 60 nations. This contains samples contained in Petri dishes within the hatchery from elsewhere in Vietnam, such because the island of Phu Quoc off the southwest coast, the place sea temperatures are even larger.
“We know that the strains from Phu Quoc have a slight benefit in relation to tolerance to larger temperatures,” Mata mentioned. “However, we nonetheless don’t know for positive that this trait is transferred from the sporophyte to the gametophyte. It most likely is, however we have to decide different vital traits like its capability to supply spores.”
This tolerance of warmth, or lack thereof, has implications as a result of very local weather change Greener Grazing is trying to deal with: In a hotter future, A. taxiformis would doubtless must be grown in additional temperate areas, because the tropics would turn out to be too sizzling for it to develop reliably.
“Another main problem we’re going through is that the seaweed will not be strongly attaching to the ropes,” Mata added. “So we will deliver out ropes filled with infants, however most of them detach, so on the finish you don’t have a high-productivity rope.”
In the nursery, researchers are testing numerous supplies to see if seaweed kinds a powerful attachment to a specific one. The firm can be working with Gore, the creator of GORE-TEX, to supply a fabric that A. taxiformis firmly attaches to.
Land-based farming could be simpler, however extra energy-intensive whereas additionally requiring costly services. In the ocean, seaweed can develop by itself without having for dietary inputs.
Seaweed farms may also provide some advantages to the native marine setting. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, ocean-based seaweed absorbs carbon dioxide whereas extracting dissolved vitamins from the water to counterbalance eutrophication. It may also present a habitat for different marine organisms.
A rope of rising A. taxiformis. Image courtesy of Greener Grazing.
While A. taxiformis has generated ample pleasure and drawn important funding, it has some critics.
In a March 2021 Wired article, Matthew Hayek, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Environmental Studies who researches the environmental and local weather impacts of meals programs, and Jan Dutkiewicz, an assistant professor of political science on the Pratt Institute in New York who focuses on meals manufacturing programs, rebutted the practicality of utilizing the seaweed to dramatically scale back livestock methane emissions.
The authors wrote, “The fact is that the advantages of seaweed are doubtless way more restricted, each in its capability to cut back cows’ methane emissions and its potential to scale as much as the scale of the issue.”
In response to doubts that A. taxiformis farming may be sufficiently scaled, Mata mentioned by electronic mail: “I all the time marvel what’s on the agenda behind critical scientists who argue this. Similar skepticism was additionally behind the cultivation of Porphyra (the sushi seaweed) till a British scientist cracked a crucial stage of the seaweed advanced life cycle after which farmers began to grasp the aquaculture at scale.”
Hayek and Dutkiewicz additionally argued that when it got here to beef manufacturing, utilizing A. taxiformis-supplemented feed was most sensible on a feedlot, the place cattle spend their final 12 months or two in shut proximity to one another to be fattened up earlier than slaughter.
According to a 2019 research, 89% of the typical cow’s methane manufacturing happens earlier than it reaches a feedlot. This means cattle emit most of their methane whereas at pasture, the place it’s harder to get them to eat components.
When contacted to see if his views had developed, Hayek instructed Mongabay, “Not solely have my opinions not substantively modified, however new proof reveals that in new contexts, feeding A. taxiformis is even much less efficient than after I wrote the article.”
This proof is from a 275-day Australian trial involving A. taxiformis extract in canola oil fed to cattle. The research, printed by Meat & Livestock Australia, a advertising and analysis supplier for the nation’s pink meat business, discovered that the complement generated a 28% lower in methane manufacturing, properly beneath the 98% that sparked a lot curiosity.
Shorter trials utilizing comparable strategies have returned extra optimistic outcomes, highlighting how this analysis remains to be very a lot a frontier.
Mata, in response to criticism that A. taxiformis won’t have the kind of world affect some counsel, acknowledged that daunting quantities of the seaweed could be wanted to achieve its most potential however mentioned even smaller emissions reductions could be useful.
“But then what does world imply? And if not ‘world,’ then is it not value pursuing?” he mentioned. “I don’t imagine in a one-solution-fits-all method, and that is no exception – it’s not going to save lots of the world.”
Greener Grazing is experimenting with elevating A. taxiformis seaweed close to barramundi aquaculture pens belonging to dad or mum firm Australis in Van Phong Bay, Vietnam. Australis operates barramundi pens equivalent to these at 5 websites within the bay. Image by Michael Tatarski for Mongabay.
Similarly, Greener Grazing’s web site calls the venture an “aquatic moonshot,” a time period that accommodates each optimism and the potential of failure.
“I’m fairly positive it would work, however I got here right here and got here to the conclusion that there’s lots of inconsistency and nuances that we have to grasp earlier than we are saying now we have a product with protocols we’re positive of,” Mata mentioned.
In the meantime, Greener Grazing has attracted important monetary backing for additional analysis. In late June, the Asian Development Bank introduced a $3 million grant for the crew to construct new services and finally go industrial. Martin Lemoine, unit head of the financial institution’s Food and Agribusiness Investment Team, emphasised the enterprise’s potential financial affect.
“This mannequin will embody native seaweed farmers organized in clusters, whereas Greener Grazing’s hatcheries and nurseries will provide seeded ropes to farmers after which buy their completed seaweed for processing at a neighborhood facility,” Lemoine instructed Mongabay. “Greener Grazing intends to incorporate mannequin farms inside every farming cluster to show the manufacturing methodology, increase productiveness, and help R&D. This offers an alternate species of seaweed for cultivation that may enhance the livelihoods of seaweed farmers in Asia and the Pacific.”
As Mata put it, taking step one towards that imaginative and prescient requires determining the formidable impediment of the ocean: “The ocean is the bottleneck.”
Banner picture: The fern-like pink seaweed Asparagopsis taxiformis within the wild. Image by Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument through Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Can seaweed cultivation assist repair the local weather disaster? (commentary)
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