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  • Writer's pictureKartik Verma

Let's talk methane

Updated: May 26, 2022

Well, last week was exciting, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) CEO Antonio Neri was on the campus at Michigan Ross and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to ask him about their climate goals. HPE plans to go carbon neutral by 2050 whereas Microsoft and Google, planning to go carbon negative by 2030 and Amazon - carbon negative by 2040.

And I did. I compared HPE’s goals with Microsoft, Amazon and asked him if he thinks HPE should do more for the environment given its competitors are already doing more. THIS is the exact point of this newsletter; to empower you to ask the right questions to business leaders, your suppliers, vendors, business partners etc., so that people know that we care and we are watching.

Irrespective of what answer he gave, I think it is important to ask these questions to people who have the power to make a difference. So the next time you are in a position where you can ask a question, do so! (If you need help in researching and asking a pointed question, hit us up!)

On that note, we encourage you to take a small step today by simply sharing the sign up link of the newsletter to just ONE of your friends and asking them to sign up. Thank you for your ongoing support!

What to expect today:

Let's talk methane

Image Source: Photo by Kat Smith from Pexels

On Oct 11, more than 30 countries joined the pledge to slash methane emissions by 30% by the end of 2030. US Special Climate envoy John Kerry said the agreement, which was announced by Biden last month, now included nine of the top 20 emitters of methane. Four notable exceptions, which are few of the heaviest emitters of methane, China, India, Russia and Brazil, have not signed the pledge.

Why is reducing methane important?

Methane is the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (10% of US GHG emissions in 2019) but much more potent in the short term in its ability to heat the planet. Scientists say reducing methane emissions is the quickest way to slow global warming. Methane has a relatively short lifetime compared with carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. But methane warms the atmosphere more than 80 times as much as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Reducing methane emissions could be one of the most significant short-term strategies in the climate crisis.

Where do methane emissions come from?

Agriculture is the predominant source. Livestock emissions (manure and cow burps, literally) accounts for roughly 32% of human-caused methane emissions. Population growth and economic developments have stimulated an unprecedented demand for animal protein. However, agriculture methane doesn’t only come from animals - Paddy rice cultivation – in which flooded fields prevent oxygen from penetrating the soil, creating ideal conditions for methane-emitting bacteria – accounts for another 8% of human-linked emissions. Rest of the methane emissions come from natural gas and petroleum systems, mining activities and landfills.

Beyond meat

Image Source: Beyond Meat website

Beyond Meat is a Los Angeles-based producer of plant-based meat substitutes founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown. The company's initial products were launched in the United States in 2012. The company offers plant-based options in the beef, pork and poultry categories. The company was the first plant-based meat analogue company that went public. Beyond Meat IPO’d in May 2019 on Nasdaq and the company was valued at $3.8 billion on the day of its IPO. As of writing this article, the company has a market cap of $6.7 billion (BYND opened at $66, all time high of $234 in Jul 2019, currently trading at $105)

How do they make their burgers?

The company’s most famous product, Beyond Burger, a plant based beef burger, is made from pea protein isolates, rice protein, mung bean, canola oil, coconut oil, potato starch, apple extract, sunflower lecithin and pomegranate powder. The protein and fat content are similar to a beef patty. The company has several manufacturing facilities in the US, two facilities in Europe and one in China.

Is it really better for the environment?

Beyond Meat commissioned the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems to conduct a study to assess Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger lifecycle in 2018. The study compared Beyond burger production systems with the equivalent for a ¼ pound of beef and found that Beyond Burger:

  • Generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions

  • Requires 46% less energy

  • 99% less impact on water scarcity

  • 93% less impact on land use

Sea-weed... for cows?

Image: Seaweed farm (Source: Wikipedia)

While plant based meats (some wonderful work being done at Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and many others) are one of the ways in which we can cut out methane emissions, we wanted to highlight an emerging method which scientists are working towards to reduce methane emissions from livestock.

Cutting methane could be one of our fastest, most effective ways to slow down the rate of warming, says atmospheric scientist Ilissa Ocko. Biologist Ermias Kebreab is researching adding seaweed to livestock feed and has found it can significantly reduce the methane emissions from cow burps. Seaweed contains a compound called bromoform which blocks methanogens (microbes that break down food and generate methane) enzymatic reactions when incorporated into feed.

Kebreab found that by just sprinkling 85g (30oz) of seaweed a day into a cow’s feed cuts methane production by more than 80%. The amount is low enough that cows cannot detect it and the meat carried no aftertaste.

This is not the first attempt though, in 2017 Canadian farmers used a feed called Bovaer, which contains a compound 3-NOP, that inhibits cows’ methane production. Earlier this year, the same compound was approved for use in Brazil as well, the world’s second largest producer of beef.

Recommendations from the team

  • Climate Trace - Open source platform using satellites and AI to detect GHGs

  • Eater - How Impossible Foods created the perfect meatless burger (11 min video)

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