Why A Shortage Of This Gas Is Hurting The Food Industry

Most of us know of carbon dioxide from basic science classes as the gas we exhale; the gas plants need to produce carbohydrates; and the gas behind global warming — the same one that's currently building up in our atmosphere, per Airthings. But, what most of us probably didn't know, is that carbon dioxide has real-world applications to the food and beverage industry too because it is the same gas that puts the lift in our carbonated drinks and the foam in our beers, per The Wall Street Journal. It's the gas that is used to help knock out livestock to prepare them for slaughter, and then to chill carcasses so they can be prepared for processing. In solid form, carbon dioxide is dry ice that can keep foods frozen for longer. 

And, while it can be found everywhere, meat packers and beverage makers are running out of this invisible commodity which, like many supply chain challenges today, began with the pandemic, per NBC News. "Our members are coming through two-and-a-half years of Covid shutdowns and other supply chain issues and inflation, so it's just another blow in a long series of challenges they've had to face," says Chuck Skypeck of the Brewer's Association and which represents thousands of independent brewers.

Soaring summer temperatures is one reason for the shortage

Part of the problem is seasonal; The Wall Street Journal says demand for carbon dioxide increases during the summer, when we drink more beers and sodas — and Rich Gottwald, chief executive of the Compressed Gas Association says that record heatwaves also triggered a record demand for cooling beverages.

But, there's another reason for the shortage too — and that can be found at Jackson Dome in Mississippi, one of the biggest producers of natural gas in the country, and which has reportedly become contaminated by sulfur compounds. Sam Rushing, president of the consulting firm Advanced Cryogenics said that the ground in near Jackson, Mississippi, may have shifted such that sulfur is now entering the wells of gas in the area (via NBC News). But, gas producer Denbury Inc. denies this, saying that its wells are still producing carbon dioxide that not only meets safety requirements, but its producers are also meeting their contractual obligations too.

The shortage could ease in the fall

The problem isn't limited to the United States, because food processors and drink makers in Britain are also experiencing a problem, per The Guardian. Some of that is caused by the United States, since it supplies 60% of the carbon dioxide Britain needs. But, U.S. firm CF Industries told The Guardian that there are other reasons for the shortage in the UK: Prices for the materials used in carbon dioxide extraction are going up, making it "uneconomical," while firms in Italy and Germany have cut production of the gas, which squeezes the market even more.

The Compressed Gas Association's Rick Gottwald told The Wall Street Journal that he is confident the shortage will ease in by mid-October. But, that may be too late for smaller beverage producers including craft breweries like Night Shift Brewing located just outside Boston, Massachusetts, which announced it had to suspend operations at its facility, and that, "Come October 1, we won't likely have jobs for many of this team," as NBC News reports.