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A Wireless Network To Keep Cows From Burping Too Much

Because there are so many cows on the planet waiting to be eaten, all their burps add up to a lot of carbon emissions. But a new experiment is trying to figure out how to limit those emissions. All it takes is the cows swallowing a little Wi-Fi-enabled probe.

Cows and other ruminant livestock (sheep, goats, etc.) burp—a lot. The methane emitted from an individual cow burp isn’t enough to contribute to climate change, but add up all the methane burps from the 1.2 billion large ruminants on the planet and livestock are responsible for 28% of all methane emissions from human-related activity, according to the EPA, because methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Oddly enough, wireless technology could help combat the problem.

Researchers from CSIRO’s Sustainable Agriculture Flagship have developed what New Scientist calls "a gas-sniffing submarine" for cow stomachs that uses infrared sensors to keep track of methane emissions. The wirelessly connected device, intended to be used on large groups of cows, has a pair of wings that opens up in the cow stomach to prevent it from moving past the rumen (where gas is produced).

If all goes well, the devices should allow farmers to keep track of cow gassiness in real time, allowing them to adjust animal feed to keep methane emissions low. That folds into CSIRO’s other research into understanding how diet affects emissions—something that scientists don’t entirely understand. CSIRO is currently examining the chemistry of anti-methanogenic plants (plants that reduce methane emissions) to see how they work.