Cows are a major source of methane emissions, mainly due to their unique digestive system. Dairy and beef cows are ruminants, which means they have a specialized stomach chamber (called the rumen), which houses billions of microbes that help break down fibrous plant matter. The process is called “enteric fermentation,” and because these microbes work to digest the cellulose found in cows’ feed, methane is produced as a byproduct. That’s a problem: the EPA identifies methane as about 25 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Algae Biosciences jumps to the rescue, creating a new feed for cows that dramatically reduces the number of burps.
“Enteric methanogenesis, also known as cattle burping, is the largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions in the world. During the digestion process of cows, sheep, goats, and other ruminants, microbes in the stomachs of these animals break down food into smaller components, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. As a byproduct of this process, methane is produced and released into the atmosphere when the animal belches,” explains Alex Brown, co-founder/CEO of Alga Biosciences in an interview with TechCrunch. “When we entered Y Combinator, we invested all our money at the time in live animal university trials to test our product, and found that methane emissions from beef cattle were undetectable with our approach. This is the first time that results of this magnitude have been observed in live animals.
Belching reduction has a side effect beyond the environment. Methane is full of energy, and Alga claims that about 12 percent of all the calories a rancher feeds their cow end up wasted as methane burps. This is a huge hidden cost for farmers, and it represents a huge opportunity to redirect those calories into meat and milk production. The theory goes that kelp-based food additives provide a direct way to reduce anthropogenic methane emissions; it could also be a huge economic benefit for farmers.
The company raised a round led by Collaborative Fund, and the company has now raised a total of $4 million in funding. In addition to Collaborative, Y Combinator, Day One Ventures, Cool Climate Collective, Pioneer Fund, Overview Capital and others also participated. The company also received a USDA Climate Smart Commodities grant.
“The best climate tech startups will build solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while being cheap, scalable and secure. We are thrilled that livestock producers, like us, believe that Alga’s solution achieves this trifecta,” said Tomas Alvarez Belon, investor at Collaborative Fund. “We are thrilled to support Alga Bio on this journey to create a methane-free world.”
The company is working on producing its feed additive for large commercial pilots, and the company tells TechCrunch that it can already produce at a scale of tens of thousands of heads per day. There is plenty of scale for growth; some sources estimate that there are around 1.5 billion cows in the world.