Emissions from agriculture come from two primary sources: livestock, and stored manure and slurry. Both are major contributors to global greenhouse gases. Reducing the livestock population is one way of curbing the problem, but this is not a realistic option given the potential commercial impact and the ongoing need to increase global food production. What is needed is a breakthrough product that works within existing parameters to reduce emissions and that’s exactly what Galway-based start-up GlasPort Bio has developed: a feed supplement for livestock and an additive for stored slurry both of which stop the methane problem in its tracks.
“The technology underpinning our products is called TMI (temporal methane inhibition) and it prevents microbial production or, in layman’s terms, stops the cows from burping,” says microbiologist Dr Ruairi Friel, who cofounded GlasPort Bio in 2018 with Prof Vincent O’Flaherty from the University of Galway and agtech veteran Killian O’Briain.
“It has been extremely effective in the lab, allowing us to reduce methane emissions and nitrous oxide emissions by 95 per cent. Preventing methane from entering the atmosphere will have a rapid and immediate impact on reducing the effects of climate change. At the moment there is no low or no-emitting way to do this and that’s the problem we set out to address.”
It took roughly four years for the company to develop its two launch products, GasAbate and RumenGlas, which are chemical additives for stored slurry and animal feed respectively. GasAbate has recently received regulatory approval for sale in Europe and is about to become commercially available. RumenGlas, which has still to complete the regulatory process, will be on the market by 2025. The manufacturing of both products is outsourced in Ireland.
It has been extremely effective in the lab, allowing us to reduce methane emissions and nitrous oxide emissions by 95 per cent.— GlasPort Bio chief executive Dr Ruairi Friel
While GasAbate and RumenGlas tick the emissions reducing boxes, Friel points out that they also have other benefits for farmers and large corporate customers (such as big food companies) that need to manage their sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s estimated that between 2-12 per cent of the energy content of feed is lost via the burping of methane. This represents a major economic loss to the farmer,” he says. “Animals fed RumenGlas get more energy from their feed and put on weight faster, which is a significant plus for farmers finishing cattle.
“The knock-on benefits from GasAbate are increased nutrients being retained in the slurry/manure making it of greater benefit to the soil. There’s more nitrogen and sulphur present and this reduces the amount of mineral fertilisers farmer needs to spread. Also, if the slurry is being used for renewable energy generation, it’s trapping a lot more carbon with our additive and more biogas is being produced. We’ve seen it double the amount produced in trials and that’s a real game-changer.”
Investment in GlasPort Bio to date is in the region of €7 million between support from Horizon 2020 (the EU’s research and innovation funding), Enterprise Ireland’s disruptive technology fund and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.
Friel says the company would now like to find a suitable partner or partners to distribute and/or manufacture its products internationally because of their global reach but also because GlasPort is primarily an R&D company whose strengths lie in developing innovative products rather than in selling them.
“We’re working on a series of next-generation products with the potential to make a real impact in the agricultural sector and testing has already begun with some of these,” Friel says. “For example, we’re using our technology to develop a slow-release product for pasture situations where the farmer doesn’t have feeding contact with the herd every day and that’s looking very promising.
“If our products were used extensively in Ireland, it would bring down national emissions by more than 20 per cent while still allowing the agricultural sector to prosper.”