What’s behind the current CO2 shortage?

R744.com takes a look at this ever-evolving story.

The CO2 molecule.

Gasworld broke the news of a raw CO2 supply crisis in Europe on 19 June. By 27 June the shortage had spread to Mexico. It is already significantly affecting the production of CO2 for its various uses, especially in the United Kingdom. 

The crisis has led to CO2 supply shortages at carbonated drinks giants including Booker, Heineken and the Coca-Cola Company, and some abattoirs and baked goods firms in the UK have shut down or reduced their production of goods, according to UK newspaper The Telegraph.

The HVAC&R sector is yet to experience shutdowns or any other major issues. Star Refrigeration, a Scottish manufacturer of ammonia refrigeration systems that has recently started manufacturing CO2 packaged systems for the industrial refrigeration sector, told R744.com it had not experienced any problems so far.

We are having no issues at present.
– Garry Broadbent, Green Cooling

Star has “not had any issues with our industrially built systems and we've not had to order CO2 for existing systems during this time of concern,” Rob Lamb, group marketing and sales director at Star Refrigeration, told R744.com.

Garry Broadbent, director at London-based Green Cooling, which installs, services and sells packaged CO2 units in the UK including chillers, CO2 condensing units and racks, also stated in an email to R744.com: “We are having no issues at present.”

Some price increase reports

"In light of the ongoing CO2 shortage, we’ve heard some anecdotal stories of price increases,” added Star’s Lamb.

RAC plus, a HVAC&R news outlet based in the UK, believes some of the price increase can be attributed to “panic buying” by CO2 refrigerant buyers worried that supplies would run out.

Star’s Lamb did note that the firm’s CO2 systems “are charged only once and use very small amounts of gas, from a few kilogrammes up to a few tonnes for the really big systems”. 

He added: “Both the robustness and the high quality of the industrial materials used in the manufacture of our CO2 packages help mitigate the risk of leakage compared to more retail solutions."

Gasworld told this website on 21 June that most companies are unlikely to be impacted by the shortage. 

“Most companies that use CO2 in any reasonable quantities will have storage tanks on site and also all the suppliers carry storage at their facilities as well and also at the import terminals,” Joanna Sampson, the journalist at gasworld.com who originally broke the story, told R744.com.

Sampson explained: “Most suppliers have three yearly supply contracts and so the price is unlikely to rise for most companies – the exception is if the CO2 has to be distributed from sources further away then there will be a demurrage or delivery charge that is higher.” 

The origin of the shortage was the closure of a number of ammonia plants in Germany, the UK, Belgium and France for routine maintenance, according to The Telegraph. CO2 is a by-product of ammonia production. 

On the mend 

The situation seems to be getting back on track. European plants are already getting back online, according to Air Liquide, one of the biggest gas suppliers in Europe. 

“In Europe, the situation evolves regularly, but overall some raw CO2 plants are in a restarting mode, which should progressively allow for more CO2 supply, with a few days delay,” Air Liquide said in an official statement emailed to R744.com on 10 July. 

The British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) and the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) told UK magazine Food Manufacturer that they are still concerned these plants will not get back online to produce CO2 quickly enough.

In Europe, the situation evolves regularly, but overall some raw CO2 plants are in a restarting mode, which should progressively allow for more CO2 supply, with a few days delay.”
– Air Liquide's official statement 

“However, due to the length of supply disruption, we believe we are likely to see an ongoing impact on the choice of food and drink products available to consumers,”‚Äč a spokesperson from FDF told Food Manufacturer.

Air Liquide, a company that refines the CO2 from ammonia plants into refrigerant grade CO2, explained: “We continue to be fully mobilized to try to meet our customers’ needs in the context of a temporary shortage beyond our control.”

“We have also mentioned as context that the current industry-wide CO2 shortage that has been experienced in Europe is a result of exceptional and simultaneous production shutdowns of raw CO2 production units that supply the industrial gas players,” the firm added. 

By Charlotte McLaughlin

Jul 12, 2018, 11:45




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