Some helpful tips about knowing Methane.

By: Henry Roberts

Methane is a greenhouse gas commonly associated with cattle and other ruminant animals. Cattle, sheep, camels, goats, alpacas and deer are examples of animals from the ruminant family whose digestive systems produce methane as a by-product. It is this sophisticated ruminant digestive system that enables animals to survive on grasses and shrubs that are mostly indigestible to other animals.

Methane is approximately 21 times the potency of carbon dioxide, but has a shorter lifespan meaning it breaks down in the atmosphere faster.

Methane sources

In addition to methane from cows and other ruminant animals, other sources of methane are industrial processes, termites, landfill, rice growing and fossil fuel use.

Methane is emitted from both natural sources and human activities

Natural emissions are dominated by anaerobic breakdown of organic matter in wetlands and by termites.

Human activities account for more than 60% of global emissions and are made up of the below activities.

Source % total Anthropogenic emissions
Fossil fuels 25%
Livestock 25%
Rice cropping 20%
Landfill methane 20%
Biomass burning 10%

Reducing methane from cows

Methane gas from livestock represents 25% of human created methane. As such there is a lot of focus around the world to find ways to reduce methane from cows and other ruminant animals.

Australia has a large cattle and sheep industry and is leading the world in research to both accurately measure methane produced by animals and to find ways to reduce methane production.

A program funded by the federal government and livestock industry bodies is called the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program. Under this program the major research groups in Australia, with expertise in the science of rumen biology and livestock management, are collaborating to develop practical on-farm options for reducing methane emissions from livestock while at the same time increasing productivity. In addition research is being undertaken to develop technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from animal waste in feedlots.

There are over 20 research projects as part of the program. One of the research programs being undertaken by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) has been working on being able to more accurately estimate the amount of methane produced by cattle in northern Australia. Ed Charmley, the head researcher on the program recently announced that the research found that emissions for the northern herd were around 30% lower than previous estimates. If this research is approved by the methodology review used for the National Greenhouse Inventory then the industry’s overall percentage will be reduced.

Methane conversion

Methane can be captured and converted into energy. In recent years there has been a lot of progress made in converting captured methane to energy for use in processing facilities. Industry is now working hard to make these technologies viable so that they can be more widely implemented.

Methane is captured in closed ponds and separated from solid waste for use in a variety of energy sources. The process of converting organic by-products into energy is advancing rapidly, with facilities opening up in Australia and overseas.

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