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Are we wrong to blame livestock for climate change?

If we effectively tap the energy source potential of animal farms, we could have our meat and diary and eat it when it comes to climate change, say Queen’s clean energy researchers.

With headlines sounding a klaxon about the damage farming is doing to the planet, more and more of us are avoiding meat and diary in an attempt to reduce our environmental impact on the planet. However, energy researchers at Queen’s University Belfast claim we might have prematurely painted agriculture as the villain in the fight against climate change, and that farms might actually hold the key to global warming prevention.

Farming fuels of the future

Professor David Rooney from the Bryden Centre at Queen’s, which undertakes research into renewable energy technologies and their implementation, says: “Agriculture is often targeted for its emissions, but the reality is that waste from farms, industry and our homes has real value. We can extract energy and other products in ways which have big benefits to the environment and help to prevent global warming.”

Professor Rooney says that by harvesting abundant energy sources such as wind and grass, we could see a ‘goldrush’ of power to replace fossil fuels – delivering economic value to agricultural communities in the process.

“In the future, animal slurries and chicken litter could ultimately power much of our transport, industry and homes.  Adding green hydrogen from wind energy into this mix amplifies the value and environmental benefits,” adds Professor Rooney.

The carbon-free myth

Professor Rooney states that the concept of a carbon-free future is a misnomer, given that much of the world is carbon based. Instead, he urges us to rethink the future goal to a net-zero target. To this end, he says animal waste has the potential to provide carbon-based chemicals to displace those from fossil fuels.

Professor Rooney says: “We will always need carbon-based chemicals to make clothes, pharmaceuticals, lubricants, fuels and bitumen for roads and homes. What we need to rely on is recycling carbon from the atmosphere through plant and tree growth, not adding to CO2 by digging up and burning fossil fuels.”

“However, we can’t efficiently capture or use enough biogenic carbon at present to meet the world’s needs for carbon-based products. Achieving better use of organic carbon sources is a driver of our work on bioenergy in the Bryden Centre.

“We believe that the next revolution in farming practice will show how we can continue to produce the high quality, locally produced products found on our supermarket shelves, provide power for our homes and transport, and regenerate the environment. We tend to think we cannot have our cake and eat it, but when it comes to the combination of energy, agriculture and the environment, we believe you can.”


Want to learn more?

Join Professor Rooney and colleagues at the Engineering the Energy Transition conference  on 26 – 28 February.

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