UQ research to cut methane emissions across Australia’s cattle industry

31 October 2022

Researchers at The University of Queensland are working on projects that could reduce methane emissions in Australia’s $14.6 billion beef cattle industry by as much as 30 per cent.

Professor Ben Hayes from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) said the four projects each had the potential to reduce methane emissions in livestock by 20 to 30 per cent and if successful, could be applied simultaneously.

Headshot of Prof Ben Hayes in the laboratory
Professor Ben Hayes

“We’re taking a multi-pronged approach to this and we’re not just relying on one technology,” Professor Hayes said.

“If the projects are successful, it’ll lead to quite substantial reductions in methane emissions for the beef industry and that’s really important as a social licence to continue operating and market access into the future.”

The first area of research is Low Emission Saliva Test for Ruminants (LESTR), led by Dr Elizabeth Ross.

The idea uses gene sequencing technology to profile the genomes of the microbes in the stomach of livestock, identifying key traits such as methane and feed efficiency.

Dr Elizabeth Ross in the lab with the sequencer
Dr Elizabeth Ross 

“LESTR builds off sequencing technology developed as a result of the COVID pandemic,” Professor Hayes said.

“We’re taking that technology, translating it, and using it in this project.”

A second project involves using biopolymers to deliver bioactive compounds that help reduce the methane emitted by cattle and sheep, led by Prof Mary Fletcher in collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“The biopolymer project is very sophisticated biodegradable biopolymers developed by UQ’s School of Chemical Engineering,” he said.

Professor Hayes will run another project on reducing emissions and improving profitability in Northern Australian beef, while there is also research focussed on reducing emissions of cattle being prepared for feedlots, as well as other international collaborations.

“I think using these innovative technologies together will get us where we need to be, which is net zero emissions,” he said.

Professor Mary Fletcher and DAF's Diane Ouwerkerk in the DAF laboratory with a fermenter
Prof Mary Fletcher and DAF's Diane Ouwerkerk with the fermenter

More than $17 million has been allocated to the work by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and UQ as part of MLA’s goal for Australia’s red meat industry to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30).

MLA Managing Director Jason Strong said the organisation had committed $140 million of investment towards new technologies in this area, including the substantial investment with UQ.

“We know there is growing interest from our global customers and consumers around where food is from and how it’s produced,” Mr Strong said. 

“While carbon neutrality is not a major driver yet, MLA’s most recent research into consumer sentiment shows that more than 56 per cent of metropolitan Australians would feel more positive about the red meat industry if emissions were reduced to net zero by the end of the decade.”

Professor Hayes said agriculture, particularly in the cattle grazing area, has an enormous opportunity to reduce emissions, perhaps more so than in some other industries.

“If you can achieve net zero, you’ve got a wonderful product, very high nutritional content, excellent protein qualities as well as having reduced environmental impact.”

Research contact: Professor Ben Hayes, Director Centre for Animal Science, QAAFI,  The University of Queensland b.hayes@uq.edu.au +61 (0)7 3346 2173.

Media contacts: UQ QAAFI media Natalie MacGregor, n.macgregor@uq.edu.au, +61 (0)409 135 651 or Carolyn Martin +61 (0) 439 399 886 or MLA Media media@mla.com.au +61 (0)487 939 929.

Photos are available from Dropbox.

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.