April 21, 2024

When it comes to the greenhouse gases that drive up global temperatures, carbon dioxide often dominates our attention. But there’s a lurking threat that traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere—methane, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term, and the culprit behind at least a quarter of human-driven heat. And much of it comes from livestock farming, with cows and sheep responsible for around 30% of methane emissions.

Australia-based climate company Sea Forest has an unconventional approach to reducing those emissions: Seaweed. Introducing its algae-based supplement, SeaFeed, to a herd’s diet can reduce its methane emissions by as much as 90%.

Sea Forest produces its feed from a species of red macroalgae called asparagopsis, which “disrupts enzymes in the stomachs of animals during the final stages of digestion to stop the formation of methane,” says co-founder and CEO Sam Elsom. The more seaweed supplement animals eat, the more significant the reduction.

For his part, Elsom is an unlikely seaweed scientist. Before founding Sea Forest, he worked as a fashion designer. But after becoming interested in global decarbonization, he landed on the burgeoning research on algae’s ability to capture and limit emissions.

When Elsom and colleagues began investigating seaweed farming five years ago, he says, there really wasn’t much of a seaweed industry in place around Australia. “Everything we have established [with] we had to establish our cultivation methods and facilities from scratch,” he says. This work is now responsible for a vast 1,800 hectares of land and marine space, with three seasons of seaweed farming behind it.

The Sea Forest team reaches deep below the ocean’s surface at three-day intervals, coming up with ropes of red seaweed to process into a variety of products. Sea Forest currently counts among its products a liquid supplement that farmers can mix into regular animal feed, pellets to feed animals directly, and salt blocks that they can put out in pens for grass-fed animals; others, such as slow-release formulas, are also in the works.

“We’ve been on a very fast and steep innovation curve as a business,” says Elsom. In addition to developing a range of products, Sea Forest is struggling with ways to maintain their shelf life. But Sea Forest’s primary challenge, he adds, isn’t its ability to grow enough seaweed for its feed — it’s getting the livestock industry to try. The company is forging a range of industry partnerships, including those with beef producers, dairy companies and wool producers, aimed at producing low-emission products.

“We have made phenomenal progress, it’s really incredible,” says Elsom. “We have an enormous job to do, and every industry must do their part.”

This story is part of Quartz’s Innovators List 2023a series that highlights the people who are deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good around the world. Get the full list here.

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