Tackling beef and dairy farming’s methane problem
Reducing methane emissions from livestock is essential if the planet is to meet stated climate goals, but most solutions fall well short on efficacy or are simply not economically feasible. DCVC- and DCVC Bio-backed CH4 Global offers an innovative approach using a seaweed-based dietary supplement that inhibits methane production up to 90% when consumed by cows and other ruminants and is now affordable by farmers without the need for any subsidies. Now, with patented techniques to grow and process the supplement affordably and at scale, CH4 Global aims to make it accessible to farmers worldwide through its partners. In September, the company announced the biggest deal in history to mitigate enteric emission of methane from cattle using a seaweed-based feed supplement.
We spoke with CH4 Global Co-Founder and CEO Steve Meller, PhD, about the science behind the company’s supplement, the technical challenges of scaling up, and his ambitious plan to eliminate the equivalent of 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
DCVC: CH4 Global’s solution uses a seaweed-based cattle feed supplement to reduce methane production. How does this work on a molecular level? And what is it about seaweed that enables such significant reductions in emissions of methane?
Meller: All 10,000 species of seaweed in the world produce a range of natural compounds called volatile halogenated bioactives. The seaweed we use – asparagopsis – is the only one that has been found so far that has evolved to store and concentrate these bioactives as part of its natural defense mechanism. Bromoform is the most abundant bioactive in asparagopsis and has drawn significant interest, but it is just one of around 100 of the compounds present in the seaweed that together can dramatically reduce methane.
Researchers have discovered that bromoform and the other bioactives in asparagopsis specifically inhibit the enzyme methyl-coenzyme M reductase, which is essential for the final step of methane production in cows, sheep, and other ruminants. When cows consume asparagopsis in very small amounts (less than 0.5% of the total daily diet), it passes to the first chamber of their stomach, the rumen, where its bioactives bind to this enzyme and dramatically reduce methane production. The seaweed supplement only affects the methane-producing pathway and appears to not disrupt digestion or the community of microbes in the rumen. One interesting and beneficial side effect is that by preventing methane from being burped out, the carbon and hydrogen stays in the rumen and is redirected back into energy production; this, in turn, makes the cow more efficient at beef and milk production.
DCVC: What are some of the biggest technical challenge challenges that you and your team have had to overcome in developing this supplement at scale?
Meller: The biggest challenge is bringing the costs of production down sufficiently so that the product is both affordable and profitable for farmers, and profitable enough for us to leverage capital infrastructure funding to build large-scale facilities. Given our leadership’s significant and extensive Fortune 100 experience, we knew that we needed to focus on bringing these costs down dramatically. Over the past few years, our engineering team has made some dramatic breakthroughs that are enabling us to lower production costs by up to 10 times through our now-patented intellectual property on growing and processing at scale. This in turn allows us to reach over 40% gross profit margins with affordable pricing for farmers. With costs now viable at scale, I’m confident we can achieve climate impact at a gigaton level by 2030. This will be made possible as we announce additional partners globally, with large multibillion-dollar companies in the value chain and also with countries that see this platform as a means to improve their GDP and at the same time lower their methane emissions.
DCVC: Where does CH4 Global stand right now in terms of meeting that aggressive, gigaton-scale target by 2030?
Meller: From the start, CH4 Global has been focused on developing the products and partnerships that enable us to reach our critical goal of reducing methane emissions on a global scale. We recently took a major step toward that goal by signing an agreement with South Korean multinational conglomerate Lotte to mitigate enteric emission of methane from cattle using our asparagopsis-based Methane TamerTM supplement. Under the agreement, Lotte will provide Methane TamerTM to up to 4 million cattle beginning in 2025. We expect this will eliminate the equivalent of 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually — roughly the same as taking 1.5 million gasoline-powered cars off the road for a year. We expect to have several more commercial partnerships announced over the coming months.
DCVC: Are there any issues around change management – whether on the part of feed makers, farmers, or consumers – that might serve as potential obstacles to adoption, and how are you planning to address them?
Meller: Our goal is to make our seaweed supplement something farmers can and want to opt into because it seamlessly integrates into their cattle operations and boosts their bottom line. We are on track to achieve this goal. Our first commercial production facility, the CH4 Global EcoPark in Australia, will enable us to further learn about optimal on-farm usage as we partner directly with paying customers. Their feedback will allow us to better refine the supplement to align perfectly with their needs. By optimizing formulation, pricing, and other factors based on farmer input during this launch phase, we can ensure the supplement feels like an easy win rather than a hassle and has a net positive financial return to the user.