UK Company Develops Mask for Cows to Control Methane Emission and Fight Climate Change

As cows burp methane, the smart mask breaks it down and reduce greenhouse gas emission to help in the fight climate change.

Thanks to research and evidence, it is clear that humans are the main culprit in driving climate change. As we have continued to depend more and more on technology and industries, we have polluted the world. But the animals are not so innocent after all, especially the cattle. As they burp and fart, they release methane that is 84 times more toxic than carbon dioxide, contributing greenhouse gasses, equivalent to the fossil fuel industry.

So, the innocent-looking animals are equally responsible for ruining the planet as we are. As the war against climate change is on and scientists are doing everything, they can to protect our only habitat, technology will once again drive the factors that led to it in the first place. One such technology is meant for cattle, especially the dairy industry. To protect the planet from methane emitting animals, a UK based start-up has come up with a solution — a mask. The start-up, named Zelp (Zero Emission Livestock Project), says that the mask has been designed to reduce up to 60 percent of methane emissions in cattle.

"We were aware that in every country, methane is one of the biggest contributions to global warming and we found that methane mitigation tools in agriculture are under-researched. There isn't a lot of innovation occurring within the field," co-founder Francisco Norris told Wired. Francisco along with his brother Patricio owns a livestock farm business in Argentina.

Cow mask
The cow mask breaks down methane, an 84 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide into CO2 and water Facebook/ Zelp

Cattle Problem

The livestock industry is responsible for a whopping 7.1 gigatons of greenhouse gasses or 14.5 percent of all carbon emissions globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The cattle industry alone contributes 5.24 gigatons of emissions every year. Considering that, a lot of focus has gone into controlling the methane burps by designing cattle feed additives. It alters the digestive process and helps in the reduction of methane gas in cattle's stomachs.

However, chemical additives may become a problem for animal life and also the products. There have been many incidents of SDS (sudden death syndrome) related deaths due to additives. Hence, instead of altering the animal's microbiology, it is better to offer a solution that would not interfere with the digestive process.

"Around 95 percent of the cattle's methane emissions come from their nostrils and mouths. The technology detects, captures and oxidizes methane when it is exhaled by the animals," Norris said.

Emission by species
Cattle are responsible for a huge amount of greenhouse gas emission FAO

How Does It Work?

Unlike a human face mask, the cow-mask doesn't cover the mouth. The mask with a zip-tie mechanism sits just over the nostrils, helping it to capture methane from breathing and burps. The mask contains a sensor to detect what percentage of methane the cow exhales.

As the methane level gets higher, the mask begins the oxidation process. It uses a catalyst to convert methane (CH4) into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) and eject it from the mask, the Wired reported. "It reduces methane's global warming potential to less than 1.5 percent of its original value," Norris said.

Apart from the methane-processing function, the mask also works as a smart device for cows. It tracks cattle location through a GPS chip, besides measuring feeding activity and sexual receptivity in female cattle. Norris brothers believe that it will help cattle owners identify early symptoms of a disease while also help in reducing the cost of farms.

The device has successfully passed trials conducted in institutions in Argentina besides UK's Royal Veterinary College. The studies found that the device had no impact on the animal's behavior or feeding. As global meat consumption is set to increase by 70 percent in the next 30 years as per FAO, so will the demand in cattle and dairy industries. Hence, the Norris brothers believe that their cow-mask will be one step in the right direction in the fight against climate change.

This article was first published on January 1, 2021