Seaweed for Low Methane Livestock
Pitch your solution.
The Problem: The world’s 1.5 billion cows collectively cause 6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by burping out massive quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The Solution: Symbrosia has developed a breakthrough seaweed feed supplement that, when sprinkled into livestock feed, reduces these methane emissions by over 90%.
The Impact: As we scale development and distribution of our novel feed supplement, we are helping the global meat industry dramatically reduce net emissions in a way that was previously thought to be impossible. Simultaneously, we are enabling livestock farmers to bounce back from disruptions caused by COVID-19 by avoiding agricultural emissions taxes and charging higher prices for climate-friendly meat.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
During cows’ digestive process, bacteria in their gut decompose food and produce methane as a by-product. Through this process, called enteric fermentation, cows and other livestock create 30% of man-made methane emissions, contributing as much to global warming as the entire European Union.
Despite the proliferation of plant-based meat products, Americans ate more meat in 2018 than ever before. Worldwide, as hundreds of millions of people rise out of poverty, they are consuming more meat, as well. In the United States alone, there are over 1.3 million livestock farms, and at least 1.3 billion people worldwide depend on livestock for their livelihoods. Billions of people around the world rely on the global meat industry, but it is a massive contributor to climate change.
Now, governments are legislating to reduce the environmental footprint of the meat industry. The European Union, multiple states (California, Oregon, Vermont), and New Zealand are implementing or pursuing taxes on agricultural methane emissions. However, livestock farmers, who are already facing price drops caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, have no way to significantly lower their livestocks’ methane emissions.
What is your solution?
Our solution is to add a very small amount of a single species of seaweed to livestock feed to create a very large reduction in methane emissions. Our novel livestock feed supplement is made from a species of red seaweed called Asparagopsis taxiformis (A. taxiformis). Research from The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Penn State, and UC Davis has shown that replacing just 0.4% of a cow’s feed with A. taxiformis reduces the amount of methane the cow produces by over 90%.
Normally, within a cow’s stomach, hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) combine to form methane (CH4). On a molecular level, A. taxiformis inhibits these two compounds from combining to form methane.
Using our innovative, on-land aquaculture production system, we grow A. taxiformis at scale. We then dry the seaweed to naturally preserve it, and powderize it to make our feed product, which we call SVD. After quality assurance, we deliver the SVD to farmers, who add just a sprinkle to their existing livestock feed blends. The cows, sheep, and goats that consume it don’t even notice that they are helping to save the planet.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Our target population is large-scale livestock farmers, first in the USA and then worldwide. Even before COVID-19 caused dramatic price drops to both beef and dairy, these farmers were struggling with low incomes and rising costs.
We are developing our solution in close partnership with livestock farmers, and we are ensuring that it is understandable, accessible, and wanted by farmers. Instead of selling early product to the highest bidder, we are prioritizing implementations that maximize feedback from farmers. We have received funding from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education division to work with Z Farms Organic to analyze the use of our seaweed feed supplement on their farm. We will stay in close contact with the farm’s experienced owner, Dr. Diane Zlotnikov, throughout the pilot, which began in June 2020.
Facing razor-thin margins, recent demand shocks from COVID-19, and impending taxes on livestock methane emissions, livestock farmers need financial security. We conducted consumer research with 300+ organic dairy consumers in the Northeastern United States, finding that they would pay $1.50-$2.00 extra per gallon of “methane-neutral” milk. We are empowering livestock farmers to increase revenues and avoid future taxes by becoming part of a sustainable future.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Scale practices and incentives for larger farmers and ranchers to decrease carbon emissions, land-use change, nutrient runoff, or water pollution
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Challenge and your selected dimension.
Cows are the most environmentally harmful animal in the global farming system, with unparalleled emissions intensity and greater total greenhouse gas emissions than any other part of our food system. Our antimethanogenic seaweed feed supplement will dramatically increase the sustainability of the livestock farming system.
Large-scale cattle farmers and ranchers are our primary target customer. Our A. taxiformis product enables them to become a part of a sustainable food system simply by adjusting their livestock feed. Moreover, our product incentivizes these farmers to decrease carbon emissions by giving them an easy way to earn more and avoid future emissions taxes.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Kailua-Kona, HI, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?
Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community
Who is the primary delegate for your solution?
If you have additional video content that explains your solution, provide a YouTube or Vimeo link here:
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Growing A. taxiformis at scale requires original research and aquaculture innovation. We have several competitors. Their products create less methane reduction than ours, and their growth methods are difficult to scale.
Volta Greentech is also cultivating A. taxiformis, but focuses only on the Swedish market.
Greener Grazing is a nonprofit that plans to grow A. taxiformis in the ocean instead of in an on-land system. This offshore cultivation is season-dependent, and means they cannot adjust parameters such as light level or nutrients to accelerate A. taxiformis growth.
CH4 Global harvests seaweed from the wild. Removing wild seaweed damages ocean ecosystems, since the seaweed breaks down pollutants and provides habitat for marine life.
Mootral has developed a livestock feed supplement made from garlic and citrus which causes a 30% reduction in livestock methane emissions. Our A. taxiformis feed supplement, which causes a 90% reduction in methane emissions, is three times as effective.
Our team has done the novel scientific research to figure out how to accelerate A. taxiformis growth, and identified several key growth parameters. We have used these inputs to develop the first on-land system capable of large-scale production of A. taxiformis.
Our daily biomass growth rate is above 10%, which is the highest in the world for A. taxiformis. Our seaweed biomass doubles every 7-8 days. We are in an opportune position to bring a new seaweed production system to commercial scale and support methane reduction on a global scale.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
There is growing evidence that incorporating A. taxiformis into livestock feed will completely revolutionize the sustainability of the global meat industry by drastically reducing methane emissions. However, harvesting sufficient amounts of A. taxiformis from the natural environment is damaging to the environment, and impossible because the seaweed is characterized by patchy distribution and seasonal growth patterns. We are developing proprietary culturing and processing techniques to enable large-scale production of A. taxiformis.
We have also been intensively researching A. taxiformis. During initial pilot lab and outdoor tank experiments, we have already identified several key growth parameters including light, temperature, water flow, photoperiod, and nutrient additions. Careful adjustment of these growth parameters has led to highly accelerated A. taxiformis growth. Below is a chart showing the increase we have created in A. taxiformis daily growth rate over time. The yellow bars show the growth rate of the control seaweed, and the red bars show the growth rate of the seaweed in our optimized production system.
Although we are still early in our development, our seaweed biomass doubles every 7-8 days. A. taxiformis is not easy to grow, and our system is already best in class. The amount of seaweed we can produce dictates the scale of our impact. As a company, we will continue to optimize our production technology and research A. taxiformis to accelerate growth rates even further.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
In 2016, researchers at James Cook University and The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia first demonstrated that A. taxiformis leads to over 90% methane emissions reduction when incorporated into cow diets. Since then, the scientific consensus on the antimethanogenic effects of A. taxiformis on livestock has been steadily building. Subsequent research at Penn State and UC Davis confirmed the initial findings.
CSIRO’s latest research, published in March 2020, showed that A. taxiformis maintains 90% methane reduction down to only 0.4% inclusion in cattle feed. We are encouraged by the research consensus, and particularly excited by the recent discovery that even small quantities of this seaweed cause a big reduction to livestock methane emissions.
For far more detail on A. taxiformis research to date, read our A. taxiformis research review.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
Our key activities at present include optimization of growth, sustainable inputs, processing, and further strain selection. These factors allow for further selection of an appropriate scaling platform that will enable scaled production, setting the floor for tangible environmental and social effects. In addition to seaweed R&D, our business development efforts are focused on developing robust financial incentives for farmers to reap the rewards of implementing sustainable technologies - a carbon credit offering. These carbon products are in alignment with a new wave of voluntary offset credits that are priced based on actual cost of technology implementation, catalyzing the impact of robust climate technologies. In essence Symbrosia focuses on scaling to meet farmer demand and aligning farmer-first financial vehicles for product implementation.
We believe that in the same way a transition to renewable energy prioritizes just jobs for oil and gas workers, climate-friendly feed composition for livestock aids livestock producers in their transition (more simply, it provides an option to transition). Enhanced meat and dairy products with fairer prices attached promotes a structural shift in the United States’ broken agricultural system. To verify our theory of change, we conducted consumer research with 300+ organic dairy consumers in the Northeastern United States. We found that, on average, these consumers would pay $1.50-$2.00 extra per gallon of “methane-neutral” milk.
At the same time, implementation of our feed additive is a high yield climate mitigation strategy recommended by global leaders such as Bill Gates. In our theory of change, livestock producers become an essential part of a sustainable food system. Without solutions such as ours, it is projected that 70% of the current livestock sector will continue along a business as usual trajectory, unaffected by recent visibility of plant and cell based protein options.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Now: We currently supply one farm which raises sheep for meat with our product through a pilot program. This farm employs four people and supplies meat to over 200 unique purchasers annually.
One year from now: In one year, we will have pilots on at least two large-scale, commercial farms which employ over 30 individuals. We will produce and distribute enough A. taxiformis to reduce methane emissions from 800 cows. These cows will supply over 10,000 unique customers with methane-neutral dairy and beef.
Five years from now: In five years, we will be supplying our A. taxiformis feed supplement to at least 10 large-scale commercial farms on an ongoing basis. These 10 farms will use our product to reduce methane emissions from 80,000 cows throughout their entire lives. These cows will supply over 500,000 unique customers with methane-neutral dairy and beef.
Looking beyond the 5-year time horizon, our 10-year goal is to eliminate 10 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2030, which will require the use of our product by over 900,000 livestock. By 2030, our A. taxiformis feed supplement will be enabling thousands of livestock farmers and millions of consumers all over the world to be part of the sustainable food system.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
We will reach our target numbers of farms, livestock, and consumers served by creating an A. taxiformis production platform that is highly productive and land efficient. As we do this, we are already building relationships with large-scale commercial farms. These farms will become long-term customers and sources of recurring revenue as they continue to purchase the A. taxiformis feed supplement they need to feed their herds of livestock. We will be able to forecast revenue accordingly.
When we succeed in scaling production and distribution of A. taxiformis worldwide, the world’s 1.5 billion cows will cause less than 1% of global warming instead of the 6% they are now responsible for. This means that the 1.3 billion people around the world who depend on livestock can continue to farm livestock and eat meat without jeopardizing our planet.
We believe that this very special species of seaweed will be one of the keys to creating a sustainable food system and saving our planet.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
To accomplish our one-year and five-year goals, we are focused on overcoming the following four barriers:
Scaling production: To produce enough A. taxiformis to meet our impact goals, we need to design and build out a system capable of commercial-scale production.
Product consistency: To distribute our A. taxiformis feed supplement worldwide, we need to create a product that is standardized, and maintains consistent quality over its lifetime.
Quantifying methane emissions reduction: To track our progress against our greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, we need to develop a rigorous scientific method for quantifying the amount of livestock methane emissions offset by our product.
FDA approval as a “food” product: To implement our feed supplement on large farms, we need our natural seaweed product to be classified as a “food” product by the FDA.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
Scale production: We will continue our research on production systems by testing 3 state-of-the-art scalable aquaculture systems available at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), where we are given lab and office space rent-free through our partnership with NELHA.
Ensure product consistency: We will ensure we create a product that is consistently high-quality by doing shelf-life testing and experimenting with several processing and drying alternatives.
Quantify methane emissions reduction: We will work with leading climate scientists and greenhouse gas offsets experts to develop a peer-reviewed livestock methane emissions quantification protocol.
Secure FDA approval as a “food” product: We will work with a consultant and the FDA to secure classification as a “food” product and gain industry-wide approval.
What type of organization is your solution team?
For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
How many people work on your solution team?
Full time: 3
Part time: 1
How many years have you worked on your solution?
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Our team is built to overcome the unique challenges of researching and scaling A. taxiformis growth and bringing a seaweed feed additive to market. Our greatest advantage is deep experience in aquaculture. Our lead aquaculture technician, Kirk Muller, previously led the grow-out of fin fish from fry to market size for an aquaculture startup. Our co-founders bring complementary skillsets. Co-founder and CEO Alexia Akbay holds an MPH from Yale and a B.S. in green chemistry from New York University, and also brings business development experience. She was nominated for the Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award and is a member of Grist’s 2020 list of 50 emerging climate leaders. Co-founder and CTO Jonathan Simonds is an expert in CAD programs and rapid prototyping.
In 2019, our team participated in the HATCH Accelerator, the world's first sustainable aquaculture accelerator program. Through the HATCH Accelerator, we connected with entrepreneurs, scientists, and investors focused on building a sustainable aquaculture industry capable of meeting global demand. We also visited seaweed farms and processing facilities in Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan, helping us deepen our understanding of the global seaweed industry.
Our lead investor, Pacific6, has also connected us to research institutes, scientists, environmentalists, and government agencies leading the development of sustainable aquaculture in the United States.
Finally, our team has developed unique relationships with massive companies in the industry. We have had interest in our product from large beef and dairy purchasers including Chobani, Ben & Jerry’s, and McDonald’s.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We strive to connect different groups, including government bodies, students and educators, and farmers.
NOAA & West Hawai’i Explorations Academy (WHEA): We received funding from NOAA to provide aquaculture apprenticeships to WHEA high school students in West Hawai’i to prepare them for careers in aquaculture.
USDA & Z Farms Organic: We have received funding from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education division to work with Z Farms Organic to study their implementation of our seaweed feed supplement. We will openly share our findings with livestock farmers around the United States upon completion of the pilot.
California State University Northridge (CSUN): At Symbrosia, we are committed to supporting women and minorities in STEM by providing mentorship, internship, and employment opportunities. CSUN is a Hispanic Serving, Minority Serving and Native American/Pacific Islander Serving institution of higher education. This partnership enables CSUN students to connect with innovators in the aquaculture industry.
Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA): Our production facility is housed within NELHA. They provide state-of-art R&D facilities to us rent-free, and share their expertise on scaling aquaculture ventures.
USDA Agricultural Research Lab in Bushland, Texas: We have a development partnership with the USDA lab in Bushland, Texas. Dr. Min Byeng conducts in vitro and in vivo beef and dairy cattle testing with our product as we refine to ensure that we’re producing a high impact material. Further, his expertise has been crucial in establishing our data collection and management strategy for our pilot with Z Farms.
What is your business model?
The bulk of our business model is unit-based and dependent on the amount of dried seaweed product output. Our current price target is $20/kg and is in alignment with consumer research and other supplemental feed additives on the market today. In addition to this physical product, carbon credits are created as a byproduct of feeding A. taxiformis to ruminants. We plan to price this offering in alignment with the technology cost, where 60-70% of the offset goes back to the farm directly and 30-40% is contributed as a management fee to Symbrosia and third-party project validation.
Current livestock research efforts with our partners focus on additional health and productivity benefits associated with the seaweed product to promote easier market adoption. Benefits can be translated back to the farmer in the form of financial value. We understand that livestock farming is barely profitable for the majority of farms and find importance in providing many forms of support in the transition to climate-friendly livestock production.
To continually scale, we anticipate conducting more in depth feasibility studies on our ability to become an A. taxiformis seed supplier to other farming facilities. In this model we would also contractually purchase back the final raw product and brand it under Symbrosia. Joint venture opportunities with feed and ingredient producers are also in discussion. Our dream would be to partner with west coast tribal land development projects for scaling.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?
Why are you applying to Solve?
Once we complete testing of the aquaculture systems available at NELHA and align on the optimal system, we will need to build our own full-size manufacturing facility. Solve can help us scale production by connecting us to manufacturing and design experts within their network to help us execute this build.
We are seeking climate scientists and organizations with expertise in developing carbon and methane offset protocols. Solve can help us connect to climate experts and organizations within the Solve network who have this experience.
Ultimately, to achieve our impact goals over the coming years, we will also need catalytic growth capital from cleantech investors. Solve can also help us connect with climate-focused funders and investors in the Solve network who would be interested in joining our 2021 Series A funding round.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
(Solve Members) Impact Investors & Series A Investors: As the quantity of A. taxiformis we produce grows exponentially and we scale to become a global social enterprise, we are seeking investment partners for our Series A funding round in 2021. We would be thrilled to have the opportunity to explore partnerships with Solve Members.
(MIT) MIT Sea Grant: Sustainable Fisheries & Aquaculture is one of MIT Sea Grant’s focus areas. We would benefit greatly from getting to share research and get input from MIT Sea Grant’s lead aquaculture research scientist, Carolina Bastida. We would also be thrilled to collaborate with MIT Sea Grant’s Design Lab to further improve our A. taxiformis grow tanks and cultivation system.
(Solver) Green and Seed: Growing rice produces methane, which contributes substantially to global warming. We would be interested in running a trial project with Green and Seed to measure methane reduction in rice farming from fertilizer that includes A. taxiformis.
(Solver) Green Keeper Africa: Many species of seaweed, including A. taxiformis, have been shown to reduce pollution in ocean water. We would be incredibly excited to partner with Green Keeper Africa to expand production and cultivation of A. taxiformis into polluted water areas where our seaweed can filter pollutants out of the water as it grows.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion?
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize?
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the AI for Humanity Prize?
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Future Planet Capital Prize?
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the the Future Planet Capital Prize to advance your solution?
Every dollar we raise from the Future Planet Capital will be invested in the development of our commercial scale A. taxiformis aquaculture system. This system will enable us to produce enough A. taxiformis seaweed to supply hundreds of thousands of farmers and millions of livestock.
- Alexia Akbay CEO, Symbrosia Inc