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Face Masks for Cows

This is not to help prevent the spread of Covid; rather to radically reduce the amount of methane belched by cows.

In a year, a single cow can belch around 220 pounds of methane, a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas. (A much smaller amount is emitted in cow farts.) There are a billion cattle on the planet, so the total amount of methane emitted is vast.

Further more, methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Even though CO2 has a longer-lasting effect, methane sets the pace for warming in the near term. So, tackling bovine methane emissions is an important requirement to help protect the planet we all call home.

While some startups try to tackle the problem with plant-based food designed to convert carnivores (World's first lab-grown meat factory opens) or creating a food supplement for cows that curbs burps, one company is trying to capture emissions directly, with a mask-like device that sits above a cow’s nose.

“We know that cattle exhale most of the methane through their mouth and nostrils, so the obvious approach was to work on a device that would capture these emissions at the source,” says Francisco Norris, CEO of Zelp, the U.K.-based startup.

A sensor on the device detects methane as the cow or bull breathes, and when levels of the gas pass a certain threshold, the technology draws the methane into the mask to a mechanism that oxidizes the gas, turning it into less-potent CO2 and water vapor. It’s similar to a catalytic converter on a car. “By doing this, we are effectively reducing the animal’s emissions to less than 2 percent of their original value,” he says.


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