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Scientists make virtual cows to research methane emissions

Sunday 18 Jan 2009 12:00a.m.

Scientists make virtual cows to research methane emissions

Methane gas emissions from animals are an environmental and political hot potato.

While scientists know that nearly half of this nation’s greenhouse gases come from animals, little is known about how the gas is produced and therefore how to reduce it.

To combat this a group of Lincoln-based scientists have created a collection of tubes, pumps, jars and monitors to simulate a herd of cows.

The virtual cows have been named Myrtle, Buttercup, Jesse, Ethel, Daisy and Boris.

“It took longer to work out the names than it did to build the machines,” says scientist Robert Wood.

Almost every aspect of the cow’s digestive system has been reproduced.

Food and saliva are added to the cow’s “stomachs” and the end result is perhaps inevitable.

“As the materials ferment you end up with what we call the poo jars. That is as technical as an engineer would want to get,” says Wood.

Methane gas emissions are monitored.

“Every time the little unit here flicks, we count the flicks for the amount of gas produced,” says Wood.

Surprisingly, the methane that cows release comes from an unexpected source.

“Cows don’t fart methane. 99% of the methane comes from their mouth.”

The Lincoln scientists are hoping this machine could one day lead to significant methane reductions through different feeding strategies. It also allows them to analyse methane production without carrying out countless animal trials.

3 News

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