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Last updated: 27.06.19

UK Could Face CO2 Shortage Again This Summer

CO2 certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of products that might be in short supply, but this greenhouse gas is actually something widely used and needed, and it looks like there could be another shortage again this summer. Let’s take a look.

What is CO2 used for?

CO2 - or carbon dioxide - is most commonly known as the gas causing the most damage to the environment. It’s one of the gases that help to keep the Earth’s environment warm, but human activity (generally the result of burning fuels such as in internal combustion engines found in cars) means that there’s too much of it in the atmosphere, and global warming is the result. However, it’s not always an unwanted by-product.

There are two major uses for CO2 that you’re likely to encounter almost every day whether you’re a consumer, a food retailer or you working in catering. The first is, of course, carbonated drinks. Anything fizzy requires carbon dioxide to get those bubbles going, and a shortage could have a significant impact on the production of various drinks, including things like beer.

The other big need for CO2 is in packaging; it plays an important role in food hygiene in the manufacturing industry. CO2 is useful for creating a protective environment inside packeted products. It helps to prevent certain bacteria growing and stunts other biological processes, which helps to keep food fresher and safer to eat for longer.

Food manufacturing companies may also be familiar with CO2 as an essential tool in slaughterhouses, both for the slaughtering process itself and for keeping the meat as fresh as possible for as long as possible.

What happened last year?

Last year there was a CO2 shortage, which coincided with the World Cup, putting significant pressure on brewers and soft drinks manufacturers. This shortage came about for a variety of reasons, some of which could well return and be an issue again in summer 2019. Increased demand from events like the world cup plus higher than average temperatures, was a major factor in reducing the available supply. However, there was also a shutdown at some UK ammonia producers as well as European fertiliser producers at the same time, which further reduced supply 

Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director general Ian Wright said: “The events in the summer of 2018 showed up a lack of resilience in the CO2 supply chain.”

"Effort, ingenuity and extra resources deployed by businesses up and down the country mitigated the impacts of the shortages, but it is important to learn lessons from the crisis for the future. Last summer’s events were a wake-up call that we need to make the UK’s CO2 chain more resilient, he said. A proper response should have three parts: learning from this summer’s shortage; preventing another such shortage happening in the future, and preparing for if it does”

How will businesses cope?

As Wright indicated, last year businesses had to adapt in different ways, primarily by making supply chain changes. The aim this year is for food manufacturers to prepare early by making plans in case these events occur again. With a more robust supply chain in place, manufacturers should still be able to continue as normal even with some pressures in terms of CO2 supply. If they do, then both retailers and caterers should see no problems either.

Here at Virtual College, we’re proud to provide food manufacturers with essential training. With this in mind, we’re always abreast of the latest developments happening within the industry and encourage you to check back on our blog regularly for more insight into food manufacturing trends.

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