Spotlight on Methane: the ‘blow torch’ of climate change

Spotlight on Methane: the ‘blow torch’ of climate change

When it comes to greenhouses gases, we hear a lot about carbon dioxide (CO2) and its link to climate change. The most prevalent of all the greenhouse gases, it lingers in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming for generations after its emission. However, there is another greenhouse gas which despite its low public profile, also plays a key role in climate change.
Methane (CH4) is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, however it is far more potent than carbon dioxide and is often referred to as a ‘blow torch’ of climate change, compared to the ‘gradual boil’ caused by CO2.

Methane levels and potency

Methane is approximately 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide making it a significant short-term driver of global warming. Due to its potency, reducing methane emissions is currently regarded as the single most effective strategy to reduce global warming in the short term.

According to US Government data, in 2021 the level of methane in the atmosphere jumped by a record amount for the second year in a row. In 2021 the concentration of methane increased by 17 parts per billion (ppb) according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This represents the largest annual increase since 1983 when modern measurements began. 15.3ppb was the previous record increase, set in 2020.

How is methane created?

Methane is created by many different sources. It is produced naturally in the environment and as a result of human activity such as the farming of livestock, agriculture, rotting landfill and the fossil fuel industry.

The most prominent natural source of methane is wetlands with emission occurring when organic matter decomposes under water. Our oceans and arctic permafrost are also significant natural sources which are concerningly expected to increase as rising temperatures intensify thawing and therefore the release of methane into the atmosphere.

According to the Australian Academy of Science, methane emissions, as a result of human activity, are currently at around 320 million tonnes per year, far exceeding the levels from natural sources (250 million tonnes).

Of human activity, the fossil fuel industry is the main contributor releasing methane into the atmosphere. Methane is released as fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas are extracted from the earth.

Livestock farming is also a significant contributor, producing around 28 per cent of global emissions. Methane is produced in the digestive systems of domestic animals such as cows, goats and sheep and is released into the atmosphere as they burp and, to a lesser extent, flatulate.

Methane is also released into the atmosphere due to agricultural activities. It is produced as organic matter decomposes in the absence of oxygen and as a result of the burning of biomass such as agricultural waste.

Banana farming waste and methane

It is estimated that 1.3 billion tons of food, about one-third of the annual production for human use, is globally lost or wasted every year.

Bananas produce just one bunch of fruit per pseudostem, which is only 12 per cent of the plant, before the stem is cut down and the biomass is left as waste. This waste is often burnt, left to decompose or buried, generating methane emissions and negatively impacting the environment in all three scenarios.

When you consider that there are approximately 11.7 million hectares of banana and plantain plantation worldwide, and that each hectare produces around 220 tonnes of waste annually, the size of the problem becomes clear.

The Papyrus solution

Papyrus Australia has developed a sustainable, chemical-free process of converting banana agri waste into products including biodegradable moulded food packaging, an alternative to plastic and forest-sourced products.

Not only does this reduce the creation of greenhouse gases by using the waste which would otherwise have generated methane emissions, it also transforms banana growing regions available agri waste into valuable products.

By partnering with local organisations in banana growing regions around the world to establish supply agreements and/or processing facilities on or near plantations, the Papyrus’ technology has the potential to directly address the issue of methane emission from banana and plantain farming and the negative impacts of deforestation and plastic in our environment.

Carbon Offset

An assessment by Sigma Global on the operations of one factory in Egypt showed that Papyrus’ technology would eliminate the release of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases by 31,500 tonnes per year.

Looking at this single factory estimate and considering there is the potential for thousands of factories worldwide, the potential benefits are immense. Apart from the significant environmental benefits discussed above, another potential benefit is a financial one.

In conclusion

Whether the emissions originate from cow flatulence, fossil fuel mining, wetlands or decomposing agri waste, it is clear that methane is playing a key role in global warming. Finding ways of decreasing methane emission will be a vitally important step in the fight against climate change.