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Prince Charles’ prize backs face mask that cuts methane emissions from cow burps

Prince Charles views a design at the Royal College of Art for the school's Terra Carta Design Lab Exhibition.
Prince Charles views a design at the Royal College of Art for the school's Terra Carta Design Lab Exhibition.   -   Copyright  Arthur Edwards/Pool via REUTERS
By Rosie Frost

If cows wore face masks, could they burp fewer methane emissions into the atmosphere?

A device that fits around the face of cattle and cuts methane emissions from their burps has won a £50,000 (€59,502) award backed by the British royal, Prince Charles.

The mask was designed by students from the Royal College of Art in the UK, who were one of four teams to be chosen as winners of the inaugural Terra Carter Design Lab competition. The prize money will go towards further developing their idea.

The device converts methane emitted by cows and was created by a design group called the Zero Emissions Livestock Project (ZELP). It neutralises methane emissions in real-time and fits around the cow's head in a way that doesn’t impact its ability to feed and interact with the herd.

Gases captured by the mask are oxidised using a catalyst and then released into the air as CO2 and water vapour. Its designers say that data is also captured throughout the life of the animal to help optimise welfare on farms, improve productivity and create a ‘robust’ log of greenhouse gas emissions.

There are around 1.6 billion cattle on the planet and each produces up to 400 litres of methane a day.

Burped out by dairy and beef herds, methane is 80 times more warming than CO2 during its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

There are around 1.6 billion cattle on the planet and each produces up to 400 litres of methane a day. Emitted via belching or farting, this makes them significant contributors to the problem of global warming.

The prize is funding solutions to confront the climate crisis

Prince Charles visited the new Terra Carta Design Lab at the Royal College of Art in London to meet the winners. At the event he said that climate change has led to “crises confronting us in all directions,” and “finding solutions rapidly” was important.

The Prince praised the designers' creativity adding that with it “we will have a better chance of winning this battle in a shorter time”.

“We can all have good ideas,” added Sir Jony Ive, Chancellor of the Royal College of Art.

“I find it reassuring, particularly facing the overwhelming challenge of climate change, that we can all contribute ideas that could evolve into valuable solutions. I love not only the power of a good idea - but how egalitarian and inclusive they can be.”

Francisco Norris, founder of the mask startup, says that winning the Terra Carta Design Lab is a “huge honour” for ZELP.

“This is the perfect platform to accelerate a climate solution with a strong design element, and we are eager to continue optimising our technology with the endorsement and the support of the Terra Carta.”

Addressing the largest source of methane emissions and delivering a substantial global emissions reduction is key, he adds.

“We remain as motivated as ever to scale our solution and play a part in the decarbonisation of the agricultural sector.”