This Y Combinator-backed startup helps reduce climate-warming methane in cow burps. Check out the pitch deck Alga Biosciences used to secure $4 million.
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- Y Combinator startup Alga Biosciences has developed a way to reduce methane in cow burps.
- Methane is the second-biggest contributor to global warming and is created when cows digest food.
- Check out the 11-slide pitch deck the company used to secure $4 million from Collaborative Fund.
A Y Combinator-backed startup trying to curb methane spewing cow burps has just landed $4 million in its first institutional funding round.
Berkeley-based Alga Biosciences, founded in 2021, has developed a feed additive to reduce methane from cow burps using biochemically modified kelp. The cash injection was led by Collaborative Fund, with Y Combinator, Day One Ventures, Cool Climate Collective, Overview Capital, and Pioneer Fund participating.
Methane is the second-biggest contributor to global warming. It only stays in the atmosphere for around 12 years, so is relatively short-lived, but is much more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. In fact, it’s 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a 100-year time scale.
The market has been undervalued thus far, according to Alex Brown, cofounder and CEO of Alga Biosciences. Figures like the 100-year warming potential of methane are part of the problem: Methane isn’t even in the atmosphere for 88 of those years, Brown told Insider.
The cofounder was drawn to the idea that if humans stopped emitting methane today, the gas would not just plateau, but actually decrease. “Why is methane so important? It’s really crucial for short-term warming trajectories,” he said. “It buys us all this time to do all these really hard things like suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and decarbonize the whole economy.”
“That’s the opportunity that methane offers.”
Legislators are taking note. The EU and US have pledged to cut methane emissions by 30%, compared with 2020 levels, by 2030.
Livestock manure and flatulence are a big contributor to human-made methane emissions, at around 32%. Methane is created in a fermentation process when cows, or any ruminant livestock, digest food.
This is the challenge Alga Biosciences set out to fix. Brown was inspired by a species of red seaweed that has a natural capability to reduce methane when used as feed.
He enlisted the help of friends Daria Balatsky and Caroline McKeon, the startup’s chief technology and scientific officers, respectively, who were studying physical chemistry at UC Berkeley at the time. The trio hunkered down and ran experiments in Balatsky’s kitchen to see if they could modify seaweed found on the local beach to have similar properties.
They developed a biochemical process to tweak kelp so that when eaten it can change a cow’s microbiome and subsequently methanogenesis, the process of making methane in the first stomach. This can be done using the existing seaweed supply chain, which is well-established thanks to uses in materials, food, and cosmetics. The kelp is sold as a powder to be added into feed.
In tests on a dozen cattle with the University of Kentucky, the company’s additive reduced methane from cow burps by up to 97%, it said.
The six-person team is currently tying up its first commercial production run, which will be used for larger pilots. Brown would not share details of the pilots but said the startup has received interest from farmers from around the world.
It’s on the hunt for a bigger lab as the company scales up, as well as additional scientists. The investment will also be channeled into research and development as the company explores new potential products.
Check out the 11 slide pitch deck the company used to raise the funds.