The Race to Scale up Asparagopsis
Cows grazing on seaweed

Cows on the beach at Dunaverty Bay, Scotland, feeding on seaweed.

Are we at the start of a new stage in the race to reduce livestock’s methane emissions with Asparagopsis? Steven Hermans asks this question in, now that CH4 Global, Greener Grazing and Sea Forest all recently announced they are moving from research scale to production scale.

But whether Asparagopsis truly does not affect animal health, milk and meat production adversely is still an ongoing debate, with more research needed to conclusively decide either way.

And there are other questions, such as will the Asparagopsis solution prove affordable to farmers? Also, how to get the seaweed to pasture-roaming cows? “The grass-fed system is a big one because we don’t have a solution at the moment,” says Sea Forest CEO Sam Elsom.

Competition developing

Meanwhile, more competitors are on the way. Students at Maastricht University in the Netherlands have modified E. coli bacteria by adding the bromoform-producing genes of Asparagopsis. The researchers expect the E. coli could then be given to livestock in capsule form just once, after which the bacteria would continue to reproduce and give off bromoform in the gut. More research is needed to prove if their thesis is correct, but if they are right, their solution would be a game changer.

However, the next challenge for Asparagopsis start-ups is to take their successes out of the lab and expand on them in the sea. A key difference among the early leaders is that Sea Forest and CH4 Global are working with A. armata — a cold water species native to Australia and New Zealand. Greener Grazing is working with A. taxiformis, the tropical, warm water species.

This distinction gives rise to two different business models. While CH4 Global and Sea Forest are looking to build out their own sea farms in Australia and New Zealand, Greener Grazing wants to leverage the existing knowledge and infrastructure of seaweed farming that is already present in Southeast Asia, supplying farmers with seed and know-how rather than managing operations themselves.

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