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The Effects of The C02 Shortage on Food & Drinks Industry

The UK over the past couple of years has began encountering a serious shortage in C02 gas which looks to be having a significant effect on the food and drink industry. This scarcity is all to do with the way that the gas is being produced.

But how is C02 gas produced and why has this production method steered the UK towards to this severe decline. There are several reasons for the shortage however ultimately it is due to a combination of factors as well as poor timing. In 2018 three of the five leading C02 production facilities in the UK were forced to shut down and across Europe there were at least five major companies offline.

So how is C02 produced commercially?

While there have been many questionings on why C02 cannot simply be distilled from the air, it should be made aware that this method is not only expensive but also inefficient. While the amount of C02 in the air is detrimental to the climate relatively speaking there are very few C02 molecules in the air meaning that it would be expensive to try and procure these particles.

Therefore, C02 is usually obtained from other sources in which it is considered a waste material such as from beer brewing, burning fossil fuels etc. A majority of the carbon dioxide produced for industrial use is taken from the steam reforming of methane. This reforming is arguably the most common chemical reaction used within the industry due to it being the source of hydrogen for fertiliser production.

Vast quantities of this carbon dioxide are reused through a reaction of ammonia forming urea. A large part of ammonia however is used in farming, roughly around 80% generated throughout the globe is used as a plant fertiliser. When ammonia or a nitrate is used as the desired fertiliser carbon dioxide is produced a considerable amount.

What is C02 typically used for?

C02 is commonly used within the food processing and drinks industry. Its uses being to put the carbonation into beer, cider, and soft drinks and to extend the shelf life of certain foods such as salads, fresh meats, and poultry. The gas is also typically seen as the most “humane” way to stun animals before death.

C02 can also be used in the production of dry ice which is commonly used within the food industry during delivery process to keep items fresh and chilled. Outside of the food and drinks industry C02 is regularly used in certain medical procedures such as various respiratory disorders as well as in the manufacturing of semiconductor devices and oil companies in the extraction of crude.

As previously mentioned above the UK in 2018 was experiencing a severe shortage in C02 gas, but why did this happen and why does it continue to reoccur?

This shortage is a result of various factors. The first being that ammonia production is generally lower during the summer seasons as farmers don’t tend to require fertiliser during this time, so ammonia production plants are usually closed for maintenance over the summer, the key issue of this being a considerable number of ammonia producers shutting down at the same time, resulting in less C02 being produced.

There is also the issue of natural gases being higher in price while the price of ammonia is quite low. This means that facilities are having to charge more for ammonia and farmers who require it are now importing it from overseas as it cheaper. This issue has also began occurring recently due to less ammonia being generated along with the weather in northern Europe being particularly warm recently and the world cup taking place there resulting in a significant increase in the sale of particular beverages such as beers and fizzy drinks. These drinks require C02 however there is now less to go around.

So, who is being affected as a result of this shortage?

Due to the shortage, there were several J.D Wetherspoons which restricted the sale of certain beverages as well as Heineken requesting that establishments don’t place large orders for drinks such as John Smith’s Extra Smooth and Amstel. Coca-Cola were also forced to reduced their production until more C02 became available.

Scotland’s biggest abattoir was also compelled to shut down as a result and instead sent animals to abattoirs in England. This had the potential to lead to higher prices and even a shortage of meats, due to the dangerous possibilities of consumers stockpiling which could have resulted in a limited supply for others. Several supermarkets such as Ocado and Morrisons also began suspending orders of frozen foods due to a lack of dry ice to keep it cool.

Several reports from around the UK were made which said that numerous food and drink suppliers were using their emergency reserves to keep productions running. Unfortunately, C02 is expensive to deliver and difficult to transport so it cannot be shipped from abroad, meaning that this shortage may continue to be a recurring issue.

While factories did eventually reopen it has in no way eradicated the issues and there have been several reports recently which have indicated another major shortage is currently happening indicating that perhaps it is time to consider looking into other possible alternatives for the food and drink industry should this shortage issue continue to repeat itself.

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