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Can Cow Backpacks Reduce Global Methane Emissions? (bloomberg.com) 190

Slashdot reader schwit1 shares an article from Bloomberg which argues "It's time to have a conversation about flatulent cows." "Enteric fermentation," or livestock's digestive process, accounts for 22 percent of all U.S. methane emissions, and the manure they produce makes up eight percent more, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency... Methane, like carbon, is a greenhouse gas, but methane's global warming impact per molecule is 25 times greater than carbon's, according to the EPA.
Cargill has tried capturing some of the methane released from cow manure by using domed lagoons, while researchers at Danone yogurt discovered they could reduce methane emissions up to 30% by feeding cows a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (mostly from flax seed). But now Argentina researchers are testing plastic "methane backpacks" which they strap on to the back of cows, and according to the article "have been able to extract 300 liters of methane a day, enough to power a car or refrigerator."
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Can Cow Backpacks Reduce Global Methane Emissions?

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  • Fart in a bag.

    I'm not proud of this comment, but there it is.
  • Factory farms are about to drop the "farm" and become ground-beef printing operations. Only perhaps ten years off.
  • We all know the backpack idea is bullshit, but at least it is raising some serious discussion about the scale of pollution due to industrial agriculture. The only solution is to cut back on meat consumption, but Cargill won't be issuing that in a press release any time soon.

    EPA "Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions"
    https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#agriculture
    • Oh, come on, there are only about 1.5 billion cows on the planet, we got this backpack thing no problem!
      • I hope the start selling the backpacks. I have a couple of colleagues in my lab who could power a small town.
        • ha ha..nice. The next post asks how these amounts can actually power anything - like, what fridge uses as much electricity as a car?? By their math, the gas from a day would power a car maybe 5km. On a serious note, the article doesn't discuss how the backpack works...I see some tubes, is there surgery involved? That adds another few layers of impracticality to it all as well.
          • ha ha..nice. The next post asks how these amounts can actually power anything - like, what fridge uses as much electricity as a car?? By their math, the gas from a day would power a car maybe 5km. On a serious note, the article doesn't discuss how the backpack works...I see some tubes, is there surgery involved? That adds another few layers of impracticality to it all as well.

            The cows have to live with tubes inserted in their intestines, and god knows where else. Don't worry though, the researchers assure the public that this vivisection is "painless" for the cows!

          • by HiThere ( 15173 )

            My thought as well. Even in very clean environments having a catheter inserted through one's skin is quite likely to lead to a life threatening infection. And that doesn't describe any barn or pasture I've ever seen.

    • The only solution is to cut back on meat consumption

      You're making the common mistake of comparing against a nonexistent zero base state. If people stopped eating meat, we'd still need to raise cattle. They provide lots of useful byproducts like lubricants, waxes, insulin, gelatin, glue, leather, etc. If we got rid of all cattle, we'd have to find other means of producing these things, which would incur other energy and material costs, perhaps higher than the costs we pay with cattle.

      Even if you were

      • The only solution is to cut back on meat consumption

        You're making the common mistake of comparing against a nonexistent zero base state. If people stopped eating meat, we'd still need to raise cattle. They provide lots of useful byproducts like lubricants, waxes, insulin, gelatin, glue, leather, etc. If we got rid of all cattle, we'd have to find other means of producing these things, which would incur other energy and material costs, perhaps higher than the costs we pay with cattle. Even if you were able to find a zero net-cost substitute for all these materials, eliminating cattle would not necessarily decrease methane production. You have to consider the entire ecosystem, not just the cows. Without cattle, grasses would grow longer, die, and decompose naturally. Some of the byproducts of that decomposition are (drumroll...) methane and CO2. Remember, this is a closed-loop system. Just because that final step of breaking down the cellulose to extract the stored solar energy happens in a compost heap instead of inside a ruminant's digestive tract doesn't necessarily mean you've improved things.

        There is no fallacy to the logic behind eliminating animal agriculture for environmental reasons. If cattle ceased to be raised, you wouldn't need to produce and transport billions of pounds of corn across the continent (Cattle are not raised on grass). You also wouldn't need to water that corn or the cattle themselves. The pasture would either be returned to nature (unlikely) or used for more efficient food production. Instead of feeding cows 10-20 pounds of grain to get one pound of their flesh, you could

    • The only solution is to cut back on meat consumption, but Cargill won't be issuing that in a press release any time soon.

      One way to make massive improvements would be to return much of middle america to its prior state:

      Overall, methane emissions from bison, elk, and deer [psu.edu] in the pre-settlement period in the contiguous United States were about 70% (medium bison population size) of the current emissions from farmed ruminants in the U.S.

      That's right, when there was so much food running around the country that it was considered a nuisance, they actually farted out less methane than what we see now. Most of the nation's food is g

  • by legRoom ( 4450027 ) on Saturday August 20, 2016 @04:53PM (#52739459)

    In what world is 300 litres (presumed at STP) per day of natural gas enough to power a car? Even in something rather efficient like a Honda Civic, that's still only enough for about 5 km per day, or ~2000 km per year.

    [300 L/d of methane] * [0.0364 MJ/L of methane] / [34.2 MJ/L of gasoline] = [0.319 L/d of gasoline equivalent]
    [0.319 L/d of gasoline] / [6 L / 100 km (fuel economy of a modern compact sedan)] = [5.32 km/d]

    • by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Saturday August 20, 2016 @05:14PM (#52739563)

      In what world is 300 litres (presumed at STP) per day of natural gas enough to power a car? Even in something rather efficient like a Honda Civic, that's still only enough for about 5 km per day, or ~2000 km per year.

      [300 L/d of methane] * [0.0364 MJ/L of methane] / [34.2 MJ/L of gasoline] = [0.319 L/d of gasoline equivalent]
      [0.319 L/d of gasoline] / [6 L / 100 km (fuel economy of a modern compact sedan)] = [5.32 km/d]

      One wonders if they may have been better off instituting a new measurement of the relative GHG output of cars vs cows in 'cows per mile'.

      I even have a spiffy abbreviation for this metric that's sure to be a hit among programmers: CP/M!

      Strat

    • by kybred ( 795293 )

      Assume a spherical cow in a vacuum...

    • by sad_ ( 7868 )

      It's enough to power a car (for a short distance).

  • Mecha-Cow [blogspot.com] is the only result of the path they are trampling down in a panicked herd.

  • by Snufu ( 1049644 ) on Saturday August 20, 2016 @06:30PM (#52739905)

    to the guy in the adjoining cubicle? Billable to the taco truck.

  • Sheep (Score:4, Interesting)

    by godel_56 ( 1287256 ) on Saturday August 20, 2016 @09:04PM (#52740569)
    Australian researchers have developed an inoculation against some of the most common methanogenic bacteria found in sheep, supposedly reducing their methane output by about a third. It also makes a small amount of extra food available for the sheep to utilize. I don't know if this has made it out of the laboratory and into farms as yet (if ever).
    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      Interesting from a grazing efficiency standpoint. I do wonder what it does to total gut balance and mortality in the event of scours or other pathogenic processes.

      But as to the nominal topic... in North America, there used to be about 20% more bison than there are cattle today. Bison mass about double what cattle do, and eat proportionately more -- therefore farted more, probably producing about twice as much methane in total. Somehow this failed to cause global warming.

  • How about paying for the abysmal eco-balance of meat production with a tax on meat instead of such harebrained ideas.
    After all, we tax gas and cars, don't we?

  • Blaming carbon dioxide on agriculture is just a distraction.
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      I agree, it's something that is driven by green party fanatics that don't have a clue at all about reality. Humans have been farming for a long time, and we have a lot fewer wetlands today than we had a millennium ago. Wetlands are a primary source for methane. So it all evens out on that side.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        it's something that is driven by green party fanatics

        You are looking in the wrong place. Despite being a very radical thing to do the people pushing this distraction call themselves "conservatives" - big city based right wing assholes.

  • by tipo159 ( 1151047 ) on Sunday August 21, 2016 @02:05AM (#52741509)

    From the summary:

    Methane, like carbon, is a greenhouse gas

    Carbon is a solid, not a gas.

    A molecule of methane includes carbon.

    Or, is carbon now synonymous with carbon dioxide?

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Sunday August 21, 2016 @03:00AM (#52741637) Homepage Journal

    You know how they say that in ancient times, hunter-gatherer societies used all the parts of an animal? Very soon we can put them to shame. :-)

  • Methane, like carbon, is a greenhouse gas, but methane's global warming impact per molecule is 25 times greater than carbon's, according to the EPA.

    I assume they mean carbon dioxide, right? Because if they're talking about pure carbon, I can't imagine it stays airborne for long enough to have much of an impact.

    Maybe that's why it's so much less effective than methane.

  • Not me, you have to hook up the hose that connects the cow to the backpack.

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