Definition of Irony: Britain Hit by CO2 Shortage

CC BY 2.0. Jorge Royan on Wikipedia

It's also affecting everything from meat packing to crumpets.

It's actually funny, that the week the British government approved a third runway for Heathrow, enabling more planes to emit more Carbon Dioxide, there are shortages of beer and soft drinks due to a shortage of CO2. It's described by Gas World as the “worst supply situation to hit the European carbon dioxide (CO2) business in decades”

Evidently, most of the food grade CO2 in Europe is a byproduct of ammonia production, and ammonia prices are in the tank while natural gas prices (a raw material for making ammonia) are high.

Well-known brands of soft drinks manufacturers are struggling with production without CO2 and are desperate to obtain product. This weekend saw additional planned maintenance shut-downs in bio-ethanol plants and then one major source in Scandinavia went offline this past weekend. The position of the soft drinks industry has been compounded due to the recent heatwave to hit Europe, resulting in significant additional demand for soft drinks and carbonated beverages.

The shortage may end soon as companies bring it in by rail from Poland and Germany. Which is a good thing, because CO2 is used for a lot more than just soda pop and beer. According to the Guardian:

Retailers told the Guardian that there were also fears about fresh food supplies as CO2 is used in packing fresh meat and salads, as well as in the slaughtering process for poultry and pigs. “At the moment we are looking at ways to keep the supply chain moving and we have not heard that any of our members have stopped production,” said Fiona Steiger, deputy director of the British Meat Processors Association.

Sam Greenhalgh on Flickr/CC BY 2.0

And the latest: Crumpets. Warburtons, which makes 1.5 million crumpets per week (who knew that people still ate so many crumpets!) is in trouble.

A spokeswoman for the baker told the Guardian: “We are working hard to ensure availability but we are already experiencing shortfalls and this will only continue to get worse unless supply is returned to normal very soon.“Faced with the tough trading conditions that we were all already battling, it’s fair to say this is a most unwelcome challenge to be dealing with right now.”

Of course, the irony of it all is that we are surrounded by far too much CO2, and yet apparently we have to actually take natural gas as a feedstock for ammonia to make CO2; who knew that with every beer and soda we are drinking fossil fuels.

If only we could suck it out of all those jet engines at Heathrow.