“If all the cattle in the world joined together to start their own country, they would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases” – Bill Gates
Globally methane is responsible for 30 per cent of global warming, and the world’s 1.3 billion cows each produce 250-500 litres of methane a day on average, the equivalent of 3.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide annually. This is around 14 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions and has led some climate campaigners to suggest that we need to eat less meat. However, research by doctoral student Breanna Roque and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, has found that a type of seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis, can reduce the methane produced by cattle without affecting milk production and taste or the production and taste of beef. Although vast quantities of the seaweed are not required – 100 grams a day reduces methane production by 80 per cent approximately- the problem now is finding a sufficient supply of the seaweed, the researchers claim.
This is where Volta Greentech comes in. Founded in 2018 by Swedish student entrepreneurs Fredrik Ackerman and Viggo Forsberg, the aim is the commercial production of a crimson seaweed food supplement in order to reduce methane emissions and mitigate the environmental impact of cattle farming. Using technology licensed from Australia’s R&D agency, CSIRO, it intends to build the world’s largest algae factory supplying enough of the seaweed to eliminate much of the methane emissions from Swedish cattle.
In 2019, the business raised €300,000 to develop a lab in Stockholm and in 2021 raised a further €1.7 million to construct a pilot land-based facility at Lysekil on the west coast of Sweden in preparation for the commercial launch of its supplement, Volta Seafeed. What they are trying to find is a technology that results in the most even quality, the highest levels of Bromoform, is cost-effective and does not deplete the earth’s natural reserve or further create further pollution. While Fredrik acknowledges that it is still work in progress, he believes they “now have a really effective cultivation technology”, especially as it uses waste heat from a local oil refinery and the CO2 produced by other polluting companies. However, apart from developing the technology to produce sufficient of the product at a low cost, he sees the biggest challenge as that of incentivising the farmers to buy and use it. To do this they are co-operating with the entire value chain, from farmers to consumers, and partnering with one of Sweden’s largest retailers, Coop, to launch the world’s most climate-friendly methane products, thereby creating a Volta co-branding “kite mark” that confirms the objective is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent.
In 2018 Fredrik was an electrical engineering student at Chalmers University on an exchange programme at the University of California. He was studying entrepreneurship, and at that time, Breanna Rogue and colleagues had just confirmed the earlier Australian findings that Asparagopsis was not only a really efficient way of reducing the methane emissions from cattle but that it was safe. He wanted to explore how to commercialise the research, so after several weeks studying the problem, he terminated his studies and returned to Sweden, where he and Viggo launched Volta with the simple mission of “getting the seaweed out to as many cows as possible, as fast as possible”. Ostensibly, therefore, Volta Greentech is a company that aims to reduce methane emissions from the world’s cows. Still, in reality, it is “a tech company at heart run by humans dedicating their actions and their love for technology to saving our only home, our planet”. None of the founding team had a background in seaweed production or research, and as Frederik says, “the members of our founding team just found each other”, united by a common desire to solve climate change and to reduce emissions. As the great American basketball coach John Wooden (1910-2010) once said, “Good values are like a magnet – they attract good people”.
SDG impact: 13 (Climate action), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 9 (Industry, Innovation and infrastructure), 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).
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