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CO2 Shortage: What Is It and What Does It Imply?
Blog...CO2 Shortage: What Is It and What Does It Imply?

CO2 Shortage: What Is It and What Does It Imply?

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Coca cola cans and glasses with limes
Is there really a carbon dioxide shortage if we keep polluting the planet? What does a c02 shortage mean?
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Coca cola cans and glasses with limes

When we hear of a shortage in carbon dioxide, it’s easy to think of it as a good thing – and presume it means that the amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere is decreasing.

But have you ever realized that a carbon dioxide shortage threatens some of your favorite leisure activities, like food and beverage companies or a brewers association that allow you to catch up over beers with a friend after a long day of work?

How else can a carbon dioxide shortage, like the one we’re facing now, impact societal pleasures, productivity, and business success?

What is the CO2 shortage?

What is carbon dioxide?

Carbon dioxide, otherwise known as CO2, is considered a natural greenhouse gas that, while harmless in small quantities, still contributes to climate change. Most carbon dioxide is made when humans exhale indoors, and levels of carbon dioxide rise where there is less ventilation.

Carbon dioxide is made of one part carbon and two parts oxygen. The CO2 shortage is deemed as problematic because carbon dioxide is one of the most important natural gases on the planet. This is because plants and trees alike use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis for survival, and because both humans and animals rely on plants to suffice the food chain – carbon dioxide is essential to all life on Earth.

Did you know? Trees absorb carbon dioxide! That’s why reforestation is so popular as a strategy to mitigate global warming and climate change.

Therefore, while carbon dioxide is most easily recognized as a culprit greenhouse gas that is ultimately negative and contributing to global warming – it is important to remember the natural, vital elements of carbon dioxide and that life couldn’t exist without it.

The most popular example being how carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of brewing, and the beer industry cannot proceed with the necessary fermentation process needed for your favorite small brewers to thrive. Cold cuts rely on carbon dioxide to for animal slaughtering, and other companies in the food industry carbon dioxide in its solid form as specialty equipment to prevent bacteria growth in their food – a new necessity due to the record heat the country and the rest of the world has seen this past summer.

The Wall Street Journal revealed that Tyson and Butterball were among the companies affected by CO2 shortages, amongst Night Shift Brewing and many other small brewers struggling to fulfill customers orders following the newfound shortage.

River in the middle of forest

Why is there a shortage of carbon dioxide?

There’s a shortage in carbon dioxide because multiple carbon dioxide suppliers in the U.S. have been suffering from gas contamination.

For example, a major producer of carbon dioxide called Denbury found out that their Jackson Dome Carbon Dioxide plant in Mississippi was contaminated with gas by an extinct volcano. This caused a massive delay in the production line, and in turn – prevented suppliers like Denbury from providing the carbon dioxide needed to produce products.

While a carbon dioxide shortage isn't abnormal around this time of year, as many people demand for more beverages like beer when it's hot outside – it's been accentuated by the loss of natural sources. In 2020, ethanol production fed the supply of carbon dioxide, but as the pandemic forced many Americans to stop driving – many ethanol plants were cut in production.

Many companies around the U.S. are feeling the CO2 shortage impact their business, and the worst part is – the situation isn’t likely to get better until the final quarter of the year.

Gas contamination is impacting businesses that use carbon dioxide more than ever before, and is considered the biggest factor that is leading to the decreased supply and overall CO2 shortage. Contaminating substances like hydrocarbons and benzene aren’t preserving the purity of carbon dioxide, and therefore – is decreasing the amount of usable carbon dioxide.

More plant closures are expected to take place throughout the rest of the summer, and even into September. Even just one plant closure can result in a loss of 1,500 daily tonnes of carbon dioxide – which will only further contribute to the Cshortage.

Summer is known to be fertilizer season so that the plants of these carbon dioxide suppliers can maximize the quantity of carbon dioxide they can supply, and given so many of these suppliers are forced to shut down in order to cope with the current gas contamination – even more potential supplies are lost, which only further impact all the companies that rely on these suppliers suffering a Cshortage.

Ammonia production is a key sourcing route for CO2 production. In fact, ammonia plants have traditionally been one a large source of food-grade CO2 and while in the past decade other sources of CO2 have been invested in, including those raw gas streams from chemical operations and bioethanol plants, ammonia remains one of the largest sources.

In short, the CO2 shortage will get even worse before things start to look up. Paul Pflieger, the communications director of the Compressed Gas Association trade group, has already stated that his association's members are working hard to mitigate this latest threat, and have warned retailers to not take any new clients throughout the shortage.

Is it a good or bad thing for there to be a shortage in carbon dioxide?

The good thing is that the current shortage in carbon dioxide isn’t doing anything to impact the environment, but it is impacting business and the return of societal activities that have been on pause since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Carbon dioxide is an imperative component for beer producers, soda companies, and many other parts of the hospitality industry. As long as the shortage in carbon dioxide persists, these sectors already struggling to re-establish their businesses after several closures due to the pandemic will continue to suffer – which directly impacts the economy.

According to the Compressed Gas Association, there any relief in the foreseeable future – but perhaps by October, when scheduled maintenance shutdowns are expected to occur, is when we can anticipate things to get better with the continued potential shortage.

How does the shortage of carbon dioxide impact society?

During the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, people weren’t able to socialize the way that they did before. Bars in New York City offered cocktails to go, and large gatherings were never recommended and even prohibited depending where in the world you were during the infamous lock downs.

Therefore, the CO2 shortage is preventing society from resuming as it once was despite the improved state of the health crisis. Not to mention, breweries and restaurants that rely on carbon dioxide for their food and beverages are caught in a difficult position with the new CO2 shortage.

Why is the CO2 shortage bad for business?

Businesses that rely on carbon dioxide, like breweries, were already experiencing supply chain shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unlike European countries and big cities like Paris that had government funding to keep their businesses alive during the health crisis – many small businesses in the United States were forced to permanently shut their doors due to insufficient demand that was out of their control.

Now, the irony is that people are rapidly bouncing back to their previous, active social lives – but the CO2 shortage creates a new roadblock for these businesses to achieve financial success after the lull experience during the pandemic.

The hospitality business is most affected by the CO2 shortage, as carbon dioxide is most commonly used to keep perishables cool in the food and beverage industry. Carbon dioxide is also used to prolong the shelf life of carbonated drinks.

Creativity has helped some businesses come up with some potential replacements for times when there is a CO2 shortage, such as using dry ice, which is solid carbon dioxide, to keep frozen foods frozen upon delivery. This was beneficial during the many home grocery deliveries that were made during the pandemic.

Ultimately, the CO2 shortage is bad for business because it is ironically deterring these businesses from finding long-awaited financial success again after suffering from a lack of business for so many months during the pandemic. In short, as long as there is a CO2 shortage – these businesses will continue to suffer.

Is there an environmentally friendly alternative to prevent a shortage in carbon dioxide?

There’s a way to harvest usable carbon dioxide and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the air at the same time – and that’s through the use of a carbon capture and storage system.

What’s a carbon capture system?

A carbon capture system, otherwise known as carbon capture and storage or CCS for short, is a precautionary method to reduce the amount of carbon emissions in the air.

Carbon capture systems seek to capture carbon dioxide at the source of industrial activity before it has the chance to enter the atmosphere so that it never has the chance to further pollute the air in the first place. Therefore, the main selling point about carbon capture is that it has proven to be effective at extracting and relocating carbon emissions before they pollute the air.

Verified to be one of the only technologies able to remove carbon dioxide emission and greenhouse gasses from the air, carbon capture and storage systems have the potential to mitigate future climate change.

How can carbon capture system help with the current CO2 shortage?

Carbon capture systems can help with the current CO2 shortage because there are companies that are finding innovative ways to recycle the carbon dioxide that these carbon capture systems harvest.

For instance, a company called Climeworks provides The Coca-Cola Company with recycled carbon dioxide emissions.  

Companies like Climeworks are seeking to reuse carbon emissions in everyday products, such as beverages as common as soda. Therefore, a carbon capture system could provide breweries, soda companies, and restaurants with a supply of carbon dioxide that isn’t contingent on a third party – such as all of the suppliers that have been forced to shut down due to the gas contamination causing the current CO2 shortage.

In fact, why even have suppliers harvesting new carbon dioxide when we could use the carbon dioxide that is polluting our planet for something enjoyable?

We can prevent climate change and future carbon dioxide shortages at the same time if more companies installed a carbon capture system.

In fact, the current CO2 shortage implies that these suppliers are more concerned about the lucrative aspects of the carbon dioxide they provide instead of their environmental impact. If these companies really wanted to prevent a carbon dioxide shortage, they would seek alternatives such as a carbon capture system in order to mitigate these supply crises while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.

Ultimately, the CO2 shortage presents the suppliers currently struggling to provide breweries and other parts of the hospitality industry with carbon dioxide to get innovative on how to harvest carbon dioxide whilst also protecting the environment.

How can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

Carbon capture is one way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while also preventing a future shortage, but it isn’t accessible to everyone. Carbon capture is expensive to purchase and install, so it isn’t the most feasible solution.

So, what are some ways a company can reduce their carbon emissions to ensure carbon dioxide isn’t harming the environment?

Well, companies can opt to invest in carbon offsetting projects or purchase carbon credits, which is a way to counterbalance existing carbon dioxide emissions by contributing to a project or organization that is committed to mitigating climate change.

The little things also shouldn’t be discarded: like offering employees public transportation passes, eating a plant-based diet whenever possible, and remembering to use reusable grocery bags or water bottles whenever possible.

Things like this may seem like they don’t make a difference in the fight against global warming, but they do. In fact, they are some of the most effective ways to take part in the collective fight against climate change.

Little steps like reducing your plastic or electrical consumption can help mitigate climate change, but if a company is financially capable of implementing a carbon capture and storage system – there’s no reason not to. The company would be helping the environment while also preventing future shortages of CO2.

All in all, there isn’t really a shortage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – but there’s a limited mindset to how these suppliers facing a Cshortage can harvest it. It’s time to get creative for the sake of our economies, livelihoods, and the future of our planet.

Tiny rocks

What about Greenly?

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