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Mobilizing Bright Science for Project “Clean Cow”

More sustainable farming through lower emissions and increased milk production

Every day a dairy cow will emit some 500 liters of methane – a potent greenhouse gas. These emissions not only pollute the environment, they also consume 10% of the energy a cow could otherwise use for milk production. So we focused a broad combination of competences and bright minds on producing a feed additive to address this issue: Trials indicate that this additive effectively reduces the cow’s daily methane production by over 30%.
Infographic: Methane Reduction Project

Reducing global warming

The complex stomachs of ruminants hosts billions of microorganisms that break down their hard-to-digest food; A small proportion of these microorganisms also produce the methane emitted by dairy cows. Incredibly, this process is responsible for 4% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions* – and thus is a major contributor to global warming.

Putting our competences to work

Tackling this societal need took intense scientific collaboration between our many internal experts in the fields of chemistry, nutrition, biology, engineering and analytics.

Boy drinking milk

Our animal scientists brought the problem – which has long been the focus of research activity in the outside world – to the attention of colleagues with expertise in Chemical Sciences. Together, they re-investigated the potential of existing molecules to provide a solution. When this didn’t deliver positive results, they took a major decision: To embark on an ambitious quest to find a completely new molecule. Using sophisticated computational chemistry technology, potentially relevant molecules were generated in silico. Once potential compounds had been identified, the full network of competences at our disposal came into play.

From test tube to global game changer

The most promising compounds were synthesized and sent to our biochemists and microbiologists for in vitro screening. The best candidates were then sent back to our chemists for several rounds of structural optimization.. The final compound was then sent to our external and independent partners in Europe and North America. These animal science academics tested it in the most demanding environment of all - the cow’s stomach. It passed with flying colors.

Cows

Meanwhile, our toxicologists and analytical chemists are conducting extensive testing to ensure the safety of the ingredient for animals and humans. Formulations & Applications teams will create a practical product formulation to supplement the cows’ daily feed; while Process Development experts were called on to start planning commercial production of the active molecule, as well as the formulated powder.

More eco-friendly cows and happier farmers

Trials of the new ingredient demonstrate a 30%-plus reduction in methane emissions  with no negative impact on animal welfare, feed consumption or performance. In fact, the project confirmed what scientists long suspected: Methane production is a waste of the animal’s total available energy. When this energy loss is reduced, cows can produce more milk from the same volume of feed. This is key for farmers because it means the additive could cover its costs several times.

For the rapidly growing army of environmentally aware consumers the appeal is clear: Decreased environmental footprint for the milk sector.

*according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)

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