Friday, February 23, 2024

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A Carbon Dioxide Shortage Is Impacting the UK

While the world’s emission levels increase, in an ironic turn of events, there is a carbon dioxide shortage in the food and beverage industry. And it is threatening the food security of the UK.

Due to extremely high natural gas prices, a US fertilizer manufacturer will have to shut down two plants in the area. These plants provide CO2 to farms and food manufacturers in the area. In fact, they produce 60% of all CO2 in the UK.

It is likely the region will experience a food shortage within two weeks if the plants do not resume operation.

How Is CO2 Used in Food and Beverages?

Carbon dioxide plays a vital role in the food and beverage industry, which makes this shortage problematic. Let’s examine it in both industries.

Food

Many might not know about the slaughtering process (or be comfortable with it), but carbon dioxide gas is used to stun the animals (primarily chickens) before the process begins.

This means that meat production will be brought to a halt without a supply of CO2.

And these facilities do not carry a surplus of gas.

Carbon dioxide is also used as a refrigerant to freeze all types of meats. Fresh food is typically shipped using a method known as Modified Atmosphere Packaging. This is where the air is replaced with carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide.

By not using carbon, most food would spoil during transportation, or have a very short shelf life.

Beverages

Now, most of you might already have zeroed in on carbonated beverages. Soda, sparkling water, seltzer, and many other popular beverages all contain carbonation. In fact, that’s why they are so popular with most people.

And not having one of the necessary ingredients is going to cause a disruption to the supply chain.

Of course, it’s not just soft drinks, but hard drinks will also be affected. And to be even clearer…beer. Now some people may think that carbon is natural from the fermentation process. However, it’s not.

Beer companies artificially add carbon during the process.

Why Can’t Carbon Be Used From Other Places?

As most already know, carbon dioxide is plentiful in our atmosphere. This raises, the question, why are we not getting it from the other sources?

Let’s start with the obvious, extracting carbon from the atmosphere is expensive. Far too expensive for the food industry. This would dramatically raise the price of food.

That said, there is hope with advancements to carbon capture technology in the future.

And because all of this carbon entering the atmosphere, that means that it comes from sources that do not capture their emissions. Thus, it cannot be utilized.

The most common source commercial CO2 comes from is actually from processes that include ammonia, like fertilizer production. However, the fact that 60% of all food-grade carbon dioxide comes from one source is more concerning than the actual shortage.

Or to put it another way, one hiccup is able to cripple and a nation’s food security. Like most things, there should be more safeguards in place.

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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