Researchers in Japan are working to reduce the climate impact of cow burps by developing stomach sensors and using artificial intelligence to effectively administer feed that inhibits methane production.
The project led by Yasuo Kobayashi, a specially appointed professor in the Graduate School of Agriculture at Hokkaido University, aims to reduce cows' methane emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
Methane, produced by cows when microbes in their stomachs break down grass and other roughage, is believed to be one of the major causes of global warming.
Cows have four distinct compartments in their stomachs that work together to digest dietary fiber in grass with the help of around 7,000 bacterial species.
In the rumen, the first and largest compartment of a cow's stomach, microbial decomposition and fermentation produces hydrogen, which is then converted to methane by other microbes.
The methane expelled in cow burps is said to have a greenhouse gas effect around 25 times greater than carbon dioxide, with the annual emissions of a single cow equivalent to those from 1.7 cars.
Earlier research has shown that when oil extracted from cashew nut shells is mixed into cow feed, the hydrogen produced is converted to nutritious propionic acid instead of methane, effectively reducing emissions of the greenhouse gas by approximately 20 percent.
The research team, also involving the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization and the National Institute for Materials Science, is now testing feeds such as seaweed and vegetable oil to find diets that may be even more effective in reducing emissions.
To determine when methane production peaks in a cow, the team plans to develop a small sensor, cylindrical in shape and about 10 centimeters long, by 2030 to be placed in the rumen to collect data on microbial activity.
The envisioned system will ultimately use AI to analyze the data and automatically dispense methane suppressing feed at the optimal time.