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From breweries to chemistry labs, carbon dioxide shortages could impair normal business

Front Street Brewery may experience reduced carbon dioxide supply due to carbon shortages in the Southeast. (PCD).

Southeastern North Carolina — Businesses from bars to restaurants to poultry farms are experiencing the early stages of a carbon shortage. This is another exposure of supply chain problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last month, Denbury, a major carbon dioxide producer, discovered gas contamination at its Jackson Dome plant in Mississippi. As a result, many suppliers, unable to filter contaminants in-house, were left with products that could not be distributed, along with stagnant production.

One of the affected companies is Raleigh-based Roberts Oxygen, whose spokesperson said the supplier could not be named. A source at Roberts Oxygen told PCD that one of his three companies receiving CO2 has been contaminated and another is shutting down for routine maintenance.

The lack of carbon dioxide will probably have the biggest impact on the beverage industry. Gases require higher purity levels to consume liquids, are more labor intensive to decontaminate, and serve as the backbone of breweries.

Roberts distributes CO2 to Wilmington’s Front Street Brewery and Flying Machine Brewing Company. FSB brewmaster Christopher McGarvey said a dramatic drop in carbon dioxide supplies would be a “catastrophic failure”.

“There’s no way to significantly reduce CO2. It’s the basics of brewing beer,” says McGarvey.

Front Street, which has four carbon dioxide tanks in an alleyway, has yet to see a filling interruption, which McGarvey estimates occurs every six weeks, but could face reduced supplies in the future. .

“It’s like watching which direction a hurricane is going,” says McGarvey.

Carbon dioxide is used in the beer fermentation process and transportation from the keg to the bar. McGarvey explained that when the beer is brewed, carbon dioxide is used to “purge” the air out of the tanks, allowing gas to pour into the kegs uninterruptedly for at least an hour.

CO2 is then used to move the liquid into the bar where it meets more CO2 on tap for a refreshing taste. For restaurants that don’t brew their own beer, a portable CO2 canister will suffice. But breweries like Front Street have to rely on truck deliveries. The bigger your business, the more gas you need.

Carbon dioxide is also used in other industries besides the beverage business, but other local businesses don’t seem to be hit as hard.

Water parks and pools may use CO2 instead of acidic mixtures to manage the pH balance of water. It can also put your splash pad at risk in the middle of summer. That said, city and county spokespeople told PCD that carbon dioxide is not being used for water recreation.

Solid gas, also known as dry ice, is used in research, pharmaceutical labs, food transportation, and other locations.

The poultry industry is already facing nationwide shortages due to winter storms in the Gulf and avian flu outbreaks in the spring, but not having enough dry ice could have some impact on how products are shipped and packaged. there is.

Dave Witter is the Corporate Communications and Sustainability Manager at House of Raeford Farms, a family-owned poultry farm located in Rosehill, 45 miles from Wilmington. He operates 454 farms in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, as well as processing facilities in the Southeast.

The company has been experiencing intermittent CO2 shortages, but it has not affected shipping schedules, he said.

“If we run out of CO2, we don’t have problems supplying our customers,” says Witter. “We just pack the product in wet ice until the CO2 shortage subsides.”

UNCW laboratories are the opposite. Jeremy Morgan, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the university, says dry ice is a necessity most of the time.

At a temperature of minus 78 degrees Celsius, it creates a “cold bath” when mixed with certain organic solvents. Morgan explained that a regular ice bath that does not drop below 0 degrees Celsius may be used instead.

“We use these baths to control the temperature of reactions that take place in the lab,” he said. “Not all projects require a -78 bath, but if a cold bath is required, we also do a solvent transfer daily.”

Morgan added that alternatives such as liquid nitrogen are difficult to control and that minus 78 degrees Celsius chillers are too expensive to buy.

So far, UNCW has had no problems getting dry ice ordered from Airgas.

As for the beverage industry, McGarvey said he was told that Roberts Oxygen would start rationing carbon dioxide supplies. Front Street purchased a few more portable canisters, but also began preparing to save as much gas as possible by finding and patching small nooks and crannies where gas could escape.

If carbon dioxide drops significantly, Front Street will stop producing new beer and use the limited carbon dioxide to sell until the kegs run out. lose.

McGarvey added that he also purchased a spanning valve to control the pressure inside the barrel and allow for natural carbonation. However, that doesn’t provide a way to move the beer from the barrel to the bar.

Front Street may have to resort to British methods, McGarvey said. That includes kegs, items on his wish list, and handcranks for carrying beer.

“We’re basically talking about medieval technology,” says McGarvey.

But many businesses can’t automatically switch to that method, taking a gamble on their customers’ taste buds and making their cask ale taste different.

Some large breweries have started recycling the carbon dioxide they emit during the fermentation process, but that option is likely to remain out of reach for smaller businesses for years to come. .

According to McGarvey, this is the first time in his 12 years of brewing beer that he’s been threatened with a CO2 shortage. He attributed it to the suppliers’ behind-the-scenes work to protect consumers from local problems.

Carbon dioxide production is dependent on output from seasonal ammonia production. That off-season occurs in the summer, when the food industry is at its most business, so many plants, like those servicing Roberts Oxygen, begin to schedule maintenance during the summer months.

From McGarvey’s perspective, this shortage highlights the problems of that model, along with the entire global supply chain built on the just-in-time model. Its mode of production mandates manufacturing to meet demand rather than ahead of need or to create surplus.

“In industry after industry, the dominant approach is short-sighted and unsustainable, and we are all at the mercy of it,” McGarvey said.

Contact journalist Brenna Flanagan at

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