Navigating the CO2 Shortage

CO2 shortages are here. Prices have been rising, and sources have been diminishing. A problematic scenario is unfolding in front of our eyes. Why? Because CO2 is essential to any carbonated drink, including soda, kombucha, and, most importantly (some would argue), beer.

The CO2 shortages are a major concern for brewery owners because breweries need a significant amount of CO2. From carbonating and packaging to preserving and enhancing, CO2 is an irreplaceable ingredient. So, what is causing the CO2 shortages? And how can canning solutions, namely innovative canning machines, help brewery owners overcome the problems?

What Are the Reasons Behind the CO2 Shortages?

The CO2 used in beer carbonation comes from various sources, both natural and synthetic.

Natural Sources

When it comes to natural sources, contamination is one of the critical issues plaguing the supply chain. For example, Jackson Dome in Mississippi, one of the country’s most major naturally occurring CO2 sources, practically a carbon dioxide aquifer, has become increasingly more contaminated with sulfur dioxide. Contamination has rendered most of the essential gas there unusable and utterly unfit for human consumption.

Artificial Sources

Although natural CO2 is used in many cases, most food-grade carbon dioxide used in the industry is artificially produced. Commercial gas is collected from manufacturing sites that generate hydrogen or ammonia from coal, natural gas, or hydrocarbon feedstock.
Ammonia-producing factories are the largest source of CO2, followed by gasoline refineries. In the past couple of years, ethanol and ammonia production has fallen significantly, contributing to the shortage of carbon dioxide.

Ammonia and CO2

The global supply of ammonia is currently in jeopardy. The inorganic compound of nitrogen and hydrogen is primarily used as a fertilizer and an important one at that. A substantial chunk of Europe’s ammonia supply originates from Russia, most commonly from oligarch-controlled corporations. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has led to severe sanctions imposed on prominent oligarchs and Russia as a whole, leading to skyrocketing prices. The production of ammonia is also highly dependent on the natural gas supply, which is now another critical issue in Europe. Soaring gas prices and severe shortages have led to a shutdown of ammonia plants in Europe.

For example, CF Industries, a US fertilizer company that provides almost one-third of the country’s CO2 supply, stated last month that it would close its ammonia facility in the UK because of rising gas prices. Ensus, which provides 40%, has temporarily shut down its bioethanol factory in Teesside, inflicting another blow on the beer business, which is already reeling from the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.

COVID-19 Vaccines and CO2

An unforeseen and unexpected factor contributing to CO2 shortages is COVID-19 vaccines — more specifically, the vaccine made by Pfizer, as it requires deep refrigeration when transported. Significant quantities of dry ice (CO2 in solid form) are necessary to ship large doses of the vaccine worldwide. More CO2 used for dry ice means less CO2 for beer.
This myriad of problems only exacerbates the CO2 shortage, which is, of course, being felt slightly differently in North America than in Europe. In the US, the contributing factors are mainly inflation, lack of gasoline production, and usage of dry ice for vaccine transportation. In Europe, Putin’s war, the subsequent sanctions, and the unaffordability or lack of natural gas led to ammonia production plants going bankrupt. This will impact how breweries across these two craft brewing-obsessed continents will respond.

How Can Breweries Overcome CO2 Shortage Issues?

Small and large breweries alike can take specific measures to mitigate the issue. CO2 capture technology is an ingenious and cost-effective way to get around the problems of both shortages and price spikes. Of course, an initial investment must be made, but it could prove invaluable in the long run.

Essentially, CO2 capture technology works by capturing the carbon dioxide that naturally occurs during the brewing process and converting it into liquid form. This type of technology is not brand-new, but it has evolved immensely over the years, leading to higher efficiency, a better quality of the product, nimbleness, and a decrease in size. Thus, carbon capture technology can be used anywhere, from highly commercial large breweries to the tiniest of craft operations.

Another significant benefit of carbon capture technology is an enormous reduction of a brewery’s carbon footprint.

And now there’s an exciting and constructive solution that could considerably impact the environment: atmospheric CO2 capture and conversion technology. A new technology developed by Australia’s national science and research organization, CSIRO, has found a way to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and incorporate it into beer and other beverages. Good news for brewery owners!

Twin Monkeys’ Canning Solutions

Twin Monkeys is keenly aware that CO2 is a finite resource and has machines that use CO2 with smart solutions that turn off the CO2 when cans aren’t actively running through the machines to help save this resource. Twin Monkeys will continue to push the boundaries of beverage canning to meet the needs of beverage manufacturers.