CO2 shortage affecting beer and meat supply in US

  • #1


Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
A shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the U.S. is leading to complications at a number of breweries and food suppliers across the country.

Food and beverage companies, such as Tyson and Kraft Heinz, have been scrambling to find suppliers of the gas, which is used for putting fizz into drinks and freezing frozen meats and pizzas. Some local breweries have even had to suspend operations at their facilities because of the shortage - that could mean fewer jobs and higher beer prices.

A number of factors have led to the current situation, but maintenance shutdowns of CO2 plants and general summer demand for drinks are the most likely culprit, according to the Brewers Association, a U.S. trade group. "While many of the specific issues in the market are new, CO2 has experienced various supply chain challenges since the beginning of the pandemic," the Brewers Association said in a statement. "This is one of many areas where small brewers are facing cost increases and availability issues."

Some analysts have also attributed the current tightness in part to contamination at the Jackson Dome carbon dioxide well, an extinct volcano in Mississippi, earlier this summer. Denbury Energy, the owner of the site, attempted to drill new CO2 wells to fill its industrial contracts, but the CO2 reportedly contained contaminants, according to Gasworld.
Denbury Energy issued a statement that the contamination was a "minor issue", and they maintain that the "CO2 produced at Jackson Dome has been and is being produced within all regulatory requirements, and the composition of the delivered CO2 continues to meet contractual specifications."

Another apparent factor - "Driver shortages are further jamming up the supply of the gas, the Brewers Association says, particularly with local delivery. Many of the sourcing challenges, it says, are worse in the southeast, but reports of CO2 shortages and quality issues have been reported all across the U.S. since the middle of the summer." According to the Compressed Gas Association, another industry trade group in the U.S., they "do not expect to see any relief until at least October, when scheduled maintenance at CO2 industrial facilities are expected to be completed."

"The beer industry has been hit particularly hard by the shortage, forcing some smaller breweries to consider raising their prices to offset rising costs and remain in business. Some are even experimenting with CO2 alternatives, such as nitrogen."

"Some larger breweries are able to capture the CO2 from their beer production and reuse it, but that's not an option for smaller brewing companies since the equipment is expensive and can take up lots of space."

"The CO2 shortage isn't just impacting the beer industry: The gas is commonly used in almost everything many foods we consume. Beyond creating the fizz in drinks, it helps rapidly chill food that will be frozen. Carbon dioxide is even used to make dry ice and can be used for humanely slaughtering animals."

The Wall Street Journal reported that Tyson and Butterball were among the companies affected by CO2 shortages. Cold cuts, which are preserved with CO2 and other gasses, could also take a hit. Modified atmospheric packaging takes out the oxygen and pumps in CO2 to give products a longer shelf life, but companies like Kraft Heinz have warned retailers of a potential shortage of turkey and bologna due to the shortage. Kraft Heinz did not respond to a request for comment. Frozen foods, such as vegetables and pizzas, also use CO2 for enhanced freezing and preservation to prevent bacteria growth.

It would seem we need an inexpensive alternative to CO2 from underground deposits, e.g., capturing from the atmosphere, which is currently relatively expensive.

From 2019 -
  • #2
Seems odd. According to my calculations, the fermentation of beer generates 10 times more CO2 than is needed for standard carbonation.

"A standard 20L brew produces between 400 and 600L of CO2!" [ref 1]​
"The beer’s carbonation level (amount of gas dissolved in the beer) is measured in volumes. A carbonation level of "2 volumes" means that every cubic inch (or other relative volume) of beer has 2 cubic inches of CO2 dissolved into it.
... most beer is packaged with 2.3-2.8 volumes of CO2." [ref 2]​
(google google google)

The following sounds a lot simpler than sucking it out of the air. From my recollection, the gas from fermenting beer is almost 100% CO2.

New technology allows craft breweries to capture its CO2 for later use or even to sell on in the market.
October 7, 2020
[ref 3]​
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  • #3
We got through that in PL several weeks ago. CO2 here is mostly a byproduct in fertilizer production from the natural gas. With Russia closing pipes and prices skyrocketing ammonia factories stopped to work and there were CO2 shortages.

the fermentation of beer generates 10 times more CO2 than is needed for standard carbonation.

Looks like it is matter of cost and technology, some breweries use their own CO2 which requires collecting it during the fermentation, others prefer buying cheap CO2 in bulk.

Plus, CO2 is used not only in beer production, every carbonated drink and many other products use CO2 for packaging etc.
  • #5
I've long been an advocate of collecting it from automobiles, as I believe it's a major component of their exhaust[per wiki: 13% CO2, 14% H2O, 71% N2]. But considering that gas cars appear to be on the decline, I'm guessing it's a bit late for that.

I'm also guessing I'm not the first person to think of this...

Capturing CO2 from trucks and reducing their emissions by 90%
December 23, 2019​
[ref 4]​

And I'm sure there are detractors...

Capturing CO2 From Exhaust Pipes Is A Bad Idea That Won’t Die
August 27, 2018​
[ref 5]​

I guess that leaves atmospheric extraction as the only solution, as it sounds like 'inconvenience' is the biggest expense.
  • #6

Denver Beer Co. co-founder: 'We can't make beer without CO2'​

Apparently, the brewing process makes more CO2 than they can use, but they have a CO2 capture system. So, I don't understand the CO2 shortage, and how it would affect the beer industry. The co-founder, Patrick Crawford, mentions CO2 as a by-product of fermentation, but it's usually released to the atmosphere. Then he talks about capturing CO2 and putting it back in the beer. Apparently, without CO2 from fermentation, they would need to buy CO2 from outside. I'm guessing it has to do with the pressure of CO2 if gas were to accumulate in a closed vessel.
  • #7
Seems odd. According to my calculations, the fermentation of beer generates 10 times more CO2 than is needed for standard carbonation.

The story about this that I read said that some breweries do indeed capture and reuse the CO2. But smaller breweries can't afford that. If CO2 continues to be scarce they may be forced to, if they can stay in business.

An alternative is traditional bottle carbonation. But that's a different product with it's own disadvantages.

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