Monday, 22 April 2013

Methane research cluster tackles northern Australia

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methane cowsResearch is looking at the nutritional chemistry of plants in the lab and the bioactivity when they are inside the animal.Image: Edward SimpsonUWA scientists are spearheading lab research on behalf of the Livestock Methane Research Cluster into ways to measure and reduce methane emissions from livestock in northern Australia.

In Australia, approximately 10 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock.

The cluster is the first of its kind and could potentially help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the north as well as improve livestock production efficiency and sustainable management.

UWA is developing lab methods to test methane emissions from various plants when digested by different livestock including cattle.

UWA project leader for the cluster’s laboratory component Professor Philip Vercoe says they have been looking at the nutritional chemistry of plants in the lab and the bioactivity when they are inside the animal.

“We’ve developed lots of lab-based methods to try and get an idea of how a plant might react in an animal or how valuable it might be to an animal,” Prof Vercoe says.

“We’ve got respiration chambers and equipment where we can feed plants to animals and get a sense of how much methane is emitted.

“To have a section of Australia like the WA rangelands where there is a diversity of plants specific to those regions that may actually have some antimethanogenic properties, you need to have some sort of base line measurement of those different systems.”

Prof Vercoe says the laboratory results will be used with field results to ensure both are more accurate in the future.

“We set up significant experiments where we’ve taken various samples of the feed that the animals are eating, the faecal matter, rumen samples and a number of other methane measurements at different levels,” he says.

“We do the lab stuff to say, ‘well look these are the sort of differences we see between these feed types, is that reflected in the paddock?’”

Prof Vercoe says the benefits of the study are multi-layered.

“Regardless of where the political landscape ends up with the idea of carbon and methane emissions from livestock, methane is an energy loss to the animal,” he says.

“If we can reduce that they can use that energy for some sort of productivity or maintain weight over a particular time or their immune system, it’s just energy that isn’t lost as well as reducing the emissions of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.”

The Livestock Methane Research Cluster is a collaboration between UWA, the University of Melbourne, CSIRO, RMIT, Macquarie University, University of New England, University of Wollongong and the University of Alberta, Canada.

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