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Professor Deli Chen

Melbourne School of Land and Environment

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Dr Nerissa Hannink

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Efforts to reduce livestock methane emissions in Australia received a major boost with the launch of a new research cluster led by the University of Melbourne and drawing on expertise from five other Australian universities, researchers in Canada and the CSIRO’s Sustainable Agriculture Flagship.

The collaboration, called the ‘Livestock Methane Research Cluster’ aims to improve measurement and management of methane emissions from cattle, which they burp into the atmosphere.

Agriculture directly accounts for 16 per cent of Australia’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and the grazing lands of northern Australia are thought to be responsible for about one-third of these total emissions.

Professor Deli Chen from the University of Melbourne’s School of Land and Environment said the new Cluster will draw on the skills of world-leading research institutes to accurately measure methane emissions from livestock under real grazing conditions.

“This is a critical step if we are to help agriculture reduce its emissions because if you can’t measure, you can’t mitigate,” Professor Chen said.

“Our research may also help boost the productivity of the cattle industry in a more sustainable way because an estimated 2–12 per cent of the energy ingested by cattle is lost as methane waste, reducing beef production and costing graziers money.”

The team will use a range of sophisticated instruments including open path lasers and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) as well as aircraft mounted cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) based detectors to measure methane in the atmosphere.

A laser beam is sent across a paddock for a few hundred metres and then reflected back to a detector, allowing emission levels to be calculated using computer modelling.
CSIRO’s Research Project Leader, Dr Ed Charmley, said the Australian Government’s Clean Energy Act set a long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent of 2000 levels by the year 2050.

“This research will help identify field-based measurement techniques and protocols that can support management actions and technologies that can help Australia meet such ambitious targets,” Dr Charmley said.

“The Cluster will also develop science that supports methodology development for the Carbon Farming Initiative, an Australian Government program that enables farmers to earn ‘carbon credits’ for undertaking abatement activities on their properties,” Dr Charmley said.

CSIRO’s Flagship Collaboration Fund will fund the Cluster for three years, with support from several other Australian universities including Macquarie University, RMIT, University of New England, University of Western Australia, and University of Wollongong as well as researchers at Agriculture and AgriFood Canada and the University of Alberta.