The Environmental Impact of Manufactured Amino Acids

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I ran across an interesting study from the Netherlands published in 2010 that examined the raw materials and ecological impact involved with the production of three of the most popular amino acids for livestock and horses: lysine, threonine, and methionine.

The background information and data presented below highlights the importance of how an ingredient is produced or farmed. When we purchase a manufactured lysine supplement or a product with man-made threonine, or a feed with manufactured lysine and manufactured methionine, we are contributing to some very significant environmental stressors.

Producers of amino acids:
Although we think of amino acids as being food-sourced (which they are when we eat whole food), isolated amino acids found in typical supplements and feeds are sadly not derived from food.

The world’s leading producer of lysine is China, accounting for 65 percent of all lysine production, followed by Western Europe (particularly Germany and France) with 21 percent. China also dominates in the production of threonine, accounting for 58 percent of the world supply, followed by Western Europe with 22 percent.

Methionine is produced by four companies: Evonk Degussa AG (Germany), Adisseo (France), Sumitomo (Japan), and Novus International (Japan). Novus is an interesting sidebar because it was a division of Monsanto that was sold to Mitsui & Co. LTD of Japan in 1991, as Monsanto wanted to focus on seed, herbicides, and biotechnology.

How do they make these amino acids?
Lysine and threonine are collected through a biosynthetic process where microorganisms produce the amino acids using glucose as a carbon source. Typical raw materials for providing glucose are corn, wheat, and molasses. Data from 2005 showed that the worldwide demand for lysine that year was 850,000 tons.

To make a single ton of lysine—2,000 pounds—this is what you need:
• Glucose syrup: 7,000 pounds
• Corn steep liquor: 600 pounds
• Ammonia: 310 pounds
• Ammonium sulfate: 190 pounds
• Phosphoric acid: 640 pounds
• Antifoam: 20 liters (5.28 gallons)
• Process water (for fermentation and cleaning): 45.2 cubic feet
• Caustic (for cleaning): 9 pounds
• Nitric acid for cleaning: 3 pounds

If the lysine is made in Europe then steam fermentation, evaporation and drying are part of the process. You can add to the above:
• Total steam consumption: 5.8 tons
• Total electricity consumption: 3,935 Kilowatt hours
• Total water consumption: 72 cubic meters (2542.66 cubic feet)

To make one ton (2,000 pounds) of threonine, you’ll need:
• Glucose: 6,000 pounds
• Corn steep liquor: 2,000 pounds
• Ammonia: 1400 pounds
• Sulfuric acid (also used in acidic drain cleaners, lead-acid batteries, insecticides, antifreeze and oil refining): 3,000 pounds
• Vitamins, salts, antibiotics: 10 pounds
• Phosphoric acid: 8 pounds
• Sodium hydroxide (aka lye, caustic soda): 400 pounds
• Water: 1176 cubic feet
• Cleaning chemicals: 500 pounds
• Resins: 600 liters (158.503 gallons)

Energy used:
• Steam (fermentation, evaporation, drying): 20 tons
• Electricity: 12,000 Kilowatt hour
• Water: 88.2 cubic feet

To produce 2,000 pounds of methionine you need:
(Methionine is most commonly produced as DL-methionine, the synthetic form)
• Acrylic Acid (a byproduct of ethylene and gasoline production): 752 pounds
• Methanol (used as an antifreeze, solvent, denaturant for ethanol, highly toxic to humans if ingested. It is made from carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen): 456 pounds
• Hydrogen sulfide (obtained by its separation from natural gas. It is highly toxic and flammable): 430 pounds
• Hydrogen cyanide (produced from methane and ammonia in the presence of oxygen, very highly toxic): 362 pounds
• Ammonium carbonate (produced by combining carbon dioxide with aqueous ammonia. Is the main component of smelling salts): 3,222 pounds.

Energy Used:  Natural Gas: 15165.07 cubic feet

The Carbon Footprint:
The study from the Netherlands (“Environmental impacts of synthetic amino acid production”, M. Marinussen, A. Kool, Dec 23, 2010) calculated the greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) emissions equivalents (CO2 eq) from the manufacture of lysine, threonine, and methionine in three countries: Germany, Denmark, and France. Carbon dioxide sources are fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas), deforestation, and cement production.

Threonine production per 2,000 pounds produced the highest amount of greenhouse gas of all three amino acids.
– Germany: 39,362 pounds of CO2 eq
– Denmark: 36,422 pounds of CO2 eq
– France: 26,082 pounds of CO2 eq

Lysine production of CO2 per 2,000 pounds was:
– Germany: 17,828 pounds of CO2 eq
– Denmark: 16,906 pounds of CO2 eq
– France: 13,492 pounds of CO2 eq

Methionine production of CO2 per 2,000 pounds was:
– Germany: 11,070 pounds of CO2 eq
– Denmark: 10,816 pounds of CO2 eq
– France: 11,072 pounds of CO2 eq

Agriculture and green house gases:
Of course the petrochemical industry is not the only culprit in greenhouse gas emissions. However, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector is not from growing plants, it is from livestock. Methane produced by livestock during digestion accounted in 2011 for 39 percent of greenhouse gas outputs. Synthetic fertilizer accounted for 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

US Greenhouse gas emissions in CO2 in 2015:
Liquid Natural Gas and Natural Gas Processing: 47,287,522 tons of CO2 eq.
• Chemical manufacturing: 15,865,894 tons of CO2 eq.
Chemical Fertilizer manufacturing: 15,865,894 tons of CO2 eq

In the context of a global economy, China leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions: 22.7% with the US second at 15.6%, and the EU third at 10.9%.

Putting it all together:
We can see how these large-scale production operations are significant contributors to environmental degradation worldwide. Fortunately, we can choose from among several good alternative amino acid sources for our animals:
alfalfa pellets

Alfalfa hay, pellets and cubes provide all the essential amino acids for horses including lysine, threonine, and methionine.
almonds circle

Other food sources for lysine include pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and almonds.
sunflower seeds

Alternative food sources for methionine are sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds.
Flax Seeds

Good threonine sources include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds.

Canaries in the coal mine:
I think of horses as being the canaries in the coal mine. They have been whispering to us that our environment is affecting them in less than positive ways. They are more stressed, have more immune challenges, allergy issues, metabolic imbalances, and food sensitivities.

What we feed them does matter. And it matters not just for their health and wellbeing, but also for the health and wellbeing of our home: the Earth.

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