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Turning cow burps into carbon credits

Anglo-Swiss startup Mootral has a plan to get cows with garlic breath to save the planet.

By Maija Palmer

Mootral, the Anglo-Swiss agritech firm, last week launched a somewhat quirky product: a carbon credit, based on more eco-friendly cow burps.

The idea is that instead of, or in addition to planting trees to offset their carbon emissions, people and companies could also pay to feed cows supplements that make them belch less methane.

“One cow emits as much greenhouse gas as six Volkswagen Golfs.”

Mootral’s plant-based supplement can reduce the methane that a cow emits by up to 38% — on average the reduction is around 30%. If all the world’s 1.5bn cows were fed the garlic-based supplement, it would be the equivalent of taking 330m European cars off the road, estimates Thomas Hafner, Mootral’s founder and chief executive.

“One cow emits as much greenhouse gas as six Volkswagen Golfs,” says Hafner. Importantly, the supplement doesn’t impact the health of the cow — and might even increase milk production (although this is still being tested).

Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its warming effects over a 20-year period, and there is increasing scrutiny on how to reduce emissions. It is a priority under the European Commission’s Green New Deal, for example. Livestock account for around 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and cow burps make up the largest part of that.

The catch

There is just one problem — how to get farmers to buy the supplement. It costs just $60 per cow for a year’s supply of feed, but with agricultural prices already squeezed, Mootral knew it would struggle to get farmers to add yet another cost to their operations.

“We think farmers shouldn’t have to pay for it — we want to make them part of the solution for climate change, but not make them take on all the costs,” Hafner told Sifted.

Enter the CowCredit, which Hafner believes can help scale up the project. Each CowCredit, verified by Verra, the US-based sustainability non-profit, will sell for €70 per tonne of CO₂ Mootral reduces methane but measurements get converted into CO₂ equivalents for the credits).

Selling the carbon credits would help to underwrite costs so that Mootral could supply the supplement to farmers for free. Currently, Mootral feed is used by commercial dairy farms such as Brades farm in the UK which supplies premium barista milk to the UK’s leading coffee shops, including the high-end chain Gail’s. High-end eco-friendly stores can advertise milk as climate-friendly, and charge customers a small premium.

But for Mootral to get mass take-up — it wants to expand from feeding 400 cows to 20k in the UK this year as a start — it needs to be able to give farmers the supplement for free, and recoup costs through the carbon credit. CowCredits could also help take the supplement to the US beef market, reaching many more cows.

The company is also looking to raise a $2.5m seed round extension to help establish the idea, with a Series A round to follow later this year.

“Climate-friendly milk and beef could be like dolphin-friendly tuna in the 1980s.”

“Once it gets going, this could be like dolphin-friendly tuna in the 1980s. Within two to three years of coming on the market, it had become the market standard. Climate-friendly milk and beef could be the same — we just first need to show it is a thing,” said Hafner.

There are a few other solutions for reducing cow burps, including feeding them seaweed  — Swedish startups Volta Greentech raised €500k last year to develop a business around this. However, many of these projects are still at the research phase and unlikely to be scalable in the short term.

Maija Palmer is Sifted’s innovation editor. She covers deeptech and corporate innovation, and tweets from @maijapalmer

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