Stanford study makes case for methane removal to tackle climate change

Stanford study makes case for methane removal to tackle climate change
Livestock production is a sizable contributor to global methane emissions
Livestock production is a sizable contributor to global methane emissions
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Livestock production is a sizable contributor to global methane emissions
Livestock production is a sizable contributor to global methane emissions

Slowing the rate of greenhouse gases pouring into the atmosphere is the name of the game when it comes to addressing climate change, but some believe the problem can't be properly solved without also removing some of what is already there. New Stanford-led research has painted a picture of how focusing efforts on methane removal could help limit dangerous temperature rise, while also preventing tens of thousands of premature deaths relating to poor air quality.

Carbon dioxide emissions attract much of the attention in climate change mitigation efforts, with more than 30 billion tons of it entering the atmosphere each year as a result of human activity. We are seeing interesting developments from research teams and startups seeking to eat into this problem, through technologies that capture atmospheric CO2 and turn it into usable fuels, or others that rapidly mineralize it in underground reservoirs.

But methane plays a huge role in climate change, too. Most methane emissions result from human activities such as livestock production, rice fields, industrial settings like fertilizer plants and waste disposal, and relative concentrations of it in the atmosphere have grown at twice the rate of CO2 since the industrial revolution. Once in the atmosphere, methane is 81 times more potent at trapping heat than CO2 in its first 20 years, and 27 times more potent over the course of a century.

The flip side is that removing methane from the atmosphere could have a greater impact on global temperatures. As part of this new research, Stanford scientists tapped into a new model developed by the UK Met Office to explore how removal of methane could impact global temperatures, while accounting for the fact that it has a much shorter lifespan than CO2.

This analysis shows that removing three years worth of human-caused methane emissions could reduce global surface temperatures by 0.21 °C (0.38 °F), but also weighs up different future emission scenarios. Under a high-emission pathway, the model showed that a 40 percent reduction in global methane by 2050 would reduce temperatures by 0.4 °C (0.72 °F). The same removal under a low emissions scenario could reduce the peak temperature by up to 1 °C (1.8 °F).

“This new model allows us to better understand how methane removal alters warming on the global scale and air quality on the human scale,” says modeling study lead author Sam Abernethy.

Less methane in the atmosphere would also decrease the concentration of tropospheric ozone, which is a major driver of smog and poor air quality and causes an estimated one million premature deaths per year via respiratory illness. According to the team's analysis, removing three years worth of human-caused methane emissions could reduce tropospheric ozone enough to prevent around 50,000 of those premature deaths each year.

We've seen some inventive approaches to reducing methane emissions, many of which focus on altering the diets of cows so that they don't belch out as much of the gas. But technologies that could potentially remove it from the atmosphere are still in their very early stages. One possibility the researchers point to is a class of materials called zeolites that can soak up the gas, with one Stanford study earlier this year demonstrating how it can also be converted into liquid fuels.

“Carbon dioxide removal has received billions of dollars of investments, with dozens of companies formed,” says senior author Rob Jackson. “We need similar commitments for methane removal.”

The research was published across two separate studies in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Source: Stanford University

Malcolm Jacks
Let's go for It.
Chris Coles
Methane from livestock stems from Confined Animal Feeding Operations, where the cows are fed a grain based diet and their waste is deposited upon bare ground to fester; the origins of a majority of beef consumed in the USA. On the other hand there are many studies showing that grass fed cows on natural pastures do not create massive quantities of methane; that instead their waste products become additions to the carbon captured by the pasture. So this report is one sided and does not do the subject justice.
Is there a way to capture methane from cows? Maybe a giant indoor area where the methane is captured and burned for electricity? Or is that just too large of a building to be realistic?
"altering the diets of cows so that they don't belch out as much of the gas"

The real/practical/permanent solution would be government-supported research to alter/augment gut microbiome of cows, so that they would never produce methane gas anymore!
Douglas Rogers
It would probably be more cost effective to reduce path length water over arid lands to facilitate emission of radiation to space!
All ruminants belch methane. Ruminants are animals with 5 stomachs such as cattle, goats, bison, deer, elk, antelope, sheep... Methane is not present in manure in significant amounts. There are feed additives derived from seaweed that can be used to reduce methane production in the rumen. But the economics and scale are not there yet, and will not be unless some sort of methane/carbon credit system is established to pay for the additive.
As for methane production in feedlot vs pasture, yes, more methane is produced/day with a grain fed diet, but rate of gain is much higher than on grass fed pasture. So it is a wash in terms of meat production. It would be very difficult to add a methane reducing feed additive to a grass fed diet. That would only be practical in a feedlot.
Altering/augmenting gut microbiome of cows is how this all started. Cows evolved to eat grasses not corn or augmented/GMO grains. For them to digest that their gut microbiome was was augmented with a super ecoli bacteria to break down the added cellulose. This drastically increased the methane production. Before the white man came and hunted the bison to near extinction there were probably more bison than cows today and I doubt that methane was an issue. Instead of a corn based economy that is causing all sorts of problems in animals and people we need to rethink this.
The majority of cattle are open range raised ....... (Australia, Argentina, Brazil). The United States increases production per acre of available land by using feed lots / intensive farming, antibiotics and grain. I've seen cattle fed with left overs from wine grape crushing. Corn is a cheap feed.
FYI - Chinese money has bought huge acreage in Northern Australia for intensive cattle production for export to China ....... so, get real people and government ....... the more restriction that government imposes on us the more business that is shipped abroad. We will eventually buy and import a lot of that product, so are we screwing ourselves by forcing production abroad again?
@Dave Wesely "rate of gain is much higher than on grass fed pasture", that says it all, profit over environment !
CSIRO in Australia has spun out a company to produce a supplement for cattle which greatly (>80%) reduces the amount of methane production from cows - https://www.csiro.au/en/research/animals/livestock/futurefeed. The research focused on feedlot production, giving the greatest impact, but is looking at pasture based production as well.

This research has been replicated in other research facilities - https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0247820
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