A collaboration between science and industry will put Australia at the forefront of global research to help curb the potent greenhouse gas, methane.

Although Australia was not among the 100+ nations to sign the Global Methane Pledge at the World Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow recently, a new $3.2 million research partnership between mining firm Latin Resources Limited and Australia’s leading contamination research centre, CRC CARE, could still see Australia play a leading international role.

By using low-cost natural clay minerals in Australia, the team aims to develop two highly original products to lower methane emissions from cattle, whether they are grazing in a paddock or kept in an enclosed building.

“If we can find a way to reduce methane output from grazing animals like cattle, sheep and goats, we can limit a major source of global pollution that worries governments and climate policymakers – as well as farmers – everywhere,” says CRC CARE Managing Director Professor Ravi Naidu.

The project exploits the unique properties of halloysite, a clay mineral that developed naturally over millions of years in the arid Australian environment, and is found on our continent. Latin Resources has a very significant, high-grade halloysite-kaolin deposit at its Cloud Nine deposit at the Noombenberry Project in Western Australia.

CRC CARE scientists aim to modify the naturally adsorbent properties of the clay to take up greenhouse gases, particularly methane. “This is a process we have already accomplished successfully for other kinds of pollutants and clay minerals, so we are optimistic of developing a good methane adsorbent too,” says CRC CARE team leader Dr Bhabananda Biswas, a Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle’s Global Centre for Environmental Remediation.

The intention is to produce a low-cost feed supplement that can be added to the diet of beef or dairy cattle to reduce the methane produced by their stomach microbes when they digest their feed, whether there are grazing on grass in the open or fed on compound rations in a feedlot.

“If we succeed, it will mean that farmers everywhere do not have to cull their herds to meet climate targets, but can continue to produce quality beef and dairy to help feed the world. This is vital for two key food industries, together worth $2 trillion and employing over 12 million people globally,” says Professor Naidu. “Australia alone has 45,000 cattle enterprises.”

The second part of the project aims to develop a novel material made from halloysite nanotubes (naturally occurring hollow tubular structures) to adsorb methane when it is emitted by ruminant animals kept indoors, when they digest their feed. A large part of the world’s cattle herd is housed indoors in winter or in very hot countries, or else raised in enclosed feedlots. The researchers aim to use the nanotubes to selectively trap the cows’ methane emissions, which can then be burned as a natural gas fuel to cool or warm the shed, operate the farm, or produce fertiliser.

Methane (CH4) is a gas that drives 40% of global warming and has been linked to 250,000 deaths a year worldwide, according to a United Nations Environment Programme report published in May this year. It is up to 80 times more potent that carbon dioxide (CO2). Its main sources are agriculture, coal, oil and gas production. However, the biggest challenge is how to reduce its output from the world livestock herd, which constitutes the largest single source of global methane emissions.

The World Methane Pledge was launched at COP26 by United States President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Cutting back on methane emissions is one of the most effective things we can do to reduce near?term global warming and keep to 1.5°C,” Ms von der Leyen said.

“Australia is richly endowed with large, diverse clay resources, which include deposits of world?class size and purity. These resources are largely underutilised due to poor market transformation, high transport costs and limited industry knowledge of clay properties, process methods and markets,” says Professor Naidu.

“We think they have vast potential for helping to clean up all manner of pollution and contamination. Just as renewables are providing answers in the energy space, we think clay minerals have a huge role to play in creating a cleaner, safer, healthier planet.”

The research agreement between Latin Resources and CRC CARE runs for three years and is due to start in January 2022.

Latin Resources’ Managing Director Chris Gale commented, “As a resources company with a strong focus on environmental, social and governance processes, we are excited by the potential of this research project. There are few resources projects globally that have the potential to be world-changing and, whilst early days, we believe we have partnered with the right team to deliver.”

CRC CARE is an independent science centre based at the University of Newcastle. Over the past 16 years as part of the Australian Government’s CRC Program, its research has delivered over $5.4 billion in benefits to Australian industry and government – a return of 9 to 1 on capital invested. It has played a key role in helping the petroleum, mining and defence industries improve their environmental performance and is a world leader in the battle again the ‘forever chemical’, PFAS.

Latin Resources Limited (ASX: LRS) is an Australian-based mineral exploration company with mineral resource projects in Latin America and Australia. The Australian projects include the Cloud Nine Halloysite deposit near Merredin, WA. In Latin America, the Company has lithium projects in Brazil, Peru and Argentina. Latin Resources announced the project to the Australian Securities Exchange on 18 November 2021. 

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