FINLAND — Valio, a Finnish cooperative that is owned by around 4,000 Finnish dairy farmers, has been actively engaged in research aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of milk production.

It has joined forces with the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT, to test the potential of plasma technology for capturing methane in barn air and breaking it down into less harmful carbon dioxide.

The project aims to reduce the carbon footprint of milk production, which in Finnish conditions sees around 50% of milk’s carbon footprint generated by methane emissions.

Methane is produced in the cow’s rumen during digestion, as well as during the handling and storage of manure on dairy farms. As a greenhouse gas, it is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide, but decomposes to carbon dioxide within 10-12 years.

The European Union has around 1.8 million cattle farms with a total of approximately 77 million cows producing 158 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent of methane every year, which accounts for 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Union Fit for 55 package aims for carbon neutrality in the agriculture sector by 2035, with the agricultural sector accounting for 43% of the greenhouse gas emissions from methane generated by ruminants.

The four-year EU-funded CANMILK project will involve various top universities, researchers, and knowledge transfer partners from Belgium, England, Germany, The Netherlands, Valio and VTT, amongst others. The teams are exploring the use of cold plasma technology to break down methane by exciting the gas molecules in the barn air to react with the methane.

“Our goal is to develop a new, eco-friendly, cost-effective technological solution that captures and breaks down the methane in barn air. This would enable us to cut the amount of barn air methane that ends up in the atmosphere by as much as 90%,” said Juha Nousiainen, Valio’s Senior Vice President who heads the Climate programme.

He added, “When we convert the methane released in barn air into carbon dioxide, the more potent warming effect of methane is decreased. This, in turn, reduces the climate impacts of milk production by an estimated 30–40%.”

It is hoped that by reducing the warming effect of methane in the barn, the new technology could reduce methane’s greenhouse effect on the atmosphere.

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