Updated: Aug 22, 2022
When it comes to air quality, we often focus on carbon dioxide (CO2) and how bad it is for the environment. But methane (CH4) is just as bad for the environment and many people consider it a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2. Let’s look at the effects of methane gas and how we can combat methane emissions.
What is Methane?
Methane is a powerful colourless, odourless and highly flammable greenhouse gas. It occurs naturally as well as by specific human-related activities.
Where Does Methane Come From?
Humans contribute around 60% of methane emissions through fossil fuels, agriculture and waste, while the other 40% comes from natural sources.
We understand that the natural sources come from wetlands, termites, geological sources, wild animals and wildfires, as a result of digestion. While it’s a fairly large portion of the causes, we can’t do much in the way of tampering with the natural sources to reduce them. But we can minimise the human-related activities.
Agriculture forms the leading source of methane production globally. While all ruminant animals (hoofed herbivores that graze) can produce this gas, cows produce the most methane, releasing up to 500 litres of it into the atmosphere each day.
A growing population has meant that livestock farming has skyrocketed, which in turn creates more methane.
This wouldn’t be a problem except for one crucial question…
Is Methane a Greenhouse Gas?
Yes. In fact, it is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. This means it contributes to climate change by heating up the atmosphere.
As a greenhouse gas, it is short-lived as it only has an atmospheric lifetime of around 12 years. Carbon dioxide, which is perhaps the most well-known and most written about greenhouse gas, can stay in the atmosphere for between 300 and 1,000 years.
So, Why is Methane Bad?
Methane is much more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping radiation and warming the planet. Per unit of mass, the impact of methane on climate change over 20 years is 86 times greater than CO2; over a 100-year period, it is 28 times greater.
As the levels increase, the impact on the environment and human health will rise.
Methane Effects on the Environment
As methane is emitted, it leaves the atmosphere through oxidation, a process that causes methane to react with hydroxyl radicals (OH). These molecules clean the air of pollutants but the reaction reduces them in the atmosphere, meaning there’s less available to clean the air. Oxidation also forms water vapour and carbon dioxide meaning it contributes to global warming directly and indirectly through the release of carbon dioxide.
Methane also contributes to the formation of ozone, a type of air pollutant that makes air quality worse and reduces crop yields.
Methane Effects on Humans
Ozone is also a hazardous air pollutant to humans, causing over one million premature deaths each year.
Low levels of methane are not toxic, but high levels can cause methane poisoning. When you breathe it in, it deprives the body of oxygen.
This can cause mental and physical symptoms such as:
Increased heart rate
Nausea and vomiting
Decreased vision, especially in low lights
Reducing Methane Can Curb Climate Change
In 2019, atmospheric concentrations of methane reached record levels in our atmosphere, with 2.5x more methane than there used to be in the pre-industrial era. Because its atmospheric lifetime is so short in relation to CO2, reducing methane emissions is perhaps the most effective way to curb climate change.
In a global assessment of methane by the UN Environment Programme and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), they note that methane from human activities could be reduced by 45% within the next ten years, and if managed, it would reduce global temperatures by 0.3°C by 2045, which would help to meet the Paris Agreement’s objective to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
According to the Global Methane Assessment, cutting 45% of human activity-caused methane emissions this decade could prevent:
255,000 premature deaths
775,000 asthma-related hospital visits
The loss of 73 billion hours of labour
The loss of 26 million tons of crops
How to Reduce Methane Emissions
Reducing methane emissions in the areas that produce the most (agriculture, fossil fuels and waste) is one way to reduce the effect of global warming with relatively simple fixes, such as locating and repairing methane leaks in pipes when they occur, reducing their release.
Many companies and scientists are looking to biotechnology to reduce methane in the air. Solutions like Pure Air Zone have a significant impact on breaking down this substance.
By harnessing a unique biophysical principle, Pure Air Zones are able to attract all harmful pollutants (such as particles and gasses) which would never respond to gravity or ventilation. Once the contaminants, including methane, are attracted to our bioreactor, a process called methane oxidation happens. This is a microbial metabolic process that is carried out by specific groups of bacteria. Thanks to natural bio oxidation, the contaminants and compounds are digested and transformed into water, carbon dioxide in a minimum quantity (as a result of cellular respiration), and if present, base elements.
If more businesses implemented solutions like becoming a Pure Air Zone, the impact on the climate would be enormous. If you’re interested in learning more, discover how your business can become a Pure Air Zone below.