Scientists found an ingenious way to cut down on a hidden source of one of the most harmful air pollutants

Global warming stinks.

But researchers think they have a solution to alleviate some of the more literal stink.

Enteric fermentation — the fancy way to say farts and burps — make up 26% of all US methane emissions, and most of that comes from dairy cows.

Methane is a harmful greenhouse gas that is great at trapping heat in the air. It doesn’t stick around for as long as notorious global warming gas carbon dioxide, but while it’s there, it’s 84 times more effective at heating up than CO2.

Animal scientists at Pennsylvania State University found that when they fed a group of the animals a chemical powder specially designed to minimise the amount of the gas they emitted, they cut cut back on these methane emissions by 30%.

The study, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, gave the 48 cows varying amounts of the inhibitor powder for 12 weeks. Afterward, those that had eaten the special powder let out 30% less gas than their peers who didn’t get fed the stuff.

Importantly, the scientists observed that the animals fed the inhibitor were still digesting their food as they normally would (they didn’t have any problems eating, making milk or digesting fibre). In other words, the scientists observed that everything was running normally, they just didn’t emit as much potent gas.

The cows that ate the anti-methane chemicals ended up weighing more at the end of the study as well. The scientists suspect that’s because the extra energy that would have made methane converted into energy to grow tissues in the cows’ bodies.

Researchers have tried to find ways to cut down on methane emissions for years, either by changing up what the cows eat, or adding chemicals in the hopes that methane production would decrease.

This study is the latest in a push to get this inhibitor powder on the market. It was developed by a Dutch company called DSM. Its Project “Clean Cow” initiative aims to cut down methane emissions from cows by at least 30% over the next few decades, though the powder’s long-term effects on the cows, and how it will interact with other members in the food chain (for example, if the powder will have any effect on us when we drink milk) has yet to be studied.

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