Right now, we are in the middle of a carbon dioxide supply chain disruption caused by the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many ethanol plants, a significant source for carbon dioxide production, went offline out of necessity during the height of the pandemic and, in many causes, normal operations have yet to resume. And many ammonia plants, the single largest source for food-grade carbon dioxide in the U.S. and many other countries, temporarily closed in light of high international natural gas prices.

This is causing an economic ripple effect because carbon dioxide is used by many consumer-facing industries. In fact, all of us rely on a healthy, secure carbon dioxide supply chain every single day. We rely on captured carbon dioxide from ethanol and ammonia facilities to meet market demand; however, it is worth underscoring that carbon sequestration projects are still vital to ensure the market isn’t over-saturated. In other words, it is critical to our economy that we strike the right balance.

The current supply constraints are specifically impacting the food and beverage industries and only exacerbating rising grocery bills for families across the country and around the world. That’s because, according to the Compressed Gas Association, 70 percent of the carbon dioxide currently captured and supplied to the market in the United States is used for food and beverages, a statistic that may be surprising if you’re used to viewing carbon dioxide only through an environmental lens.

In fact, carbon dioxide is used to:

  • Package meats, baby foods, fresh foods, and baked goods
  • Keep frozen food safely cold during transport
  • Dispense drinks in restaurants and bars
  • Carbonate water, sodas, and alcoholic beverages like beer
  • Support plant growth in greenhouses

For the meat industry, in particular, this supply constraint is putting considerable stress on every facet of the supply chain. Carbon dioxide is used in the dry ice packaging that ensures safe transport, in the packaging of cold cuts that removes oxygen to extend their shelf life, and in frozen foods – like chicken breasts or pizza – which are moved through a CO2-filled tunnel for an immediate deep freeze. Without enough carbon dioxide supply, the results are the higher prices and fewer options we’re facing at the grocery store.

Breweries are another industry feeling the strain. Several independent breweries across the country have had to shut down or decrease operations, while others are paying as much as three to four times as much for their normal supply of carbon dioxide.

The heart of the problem, of course, isn’t consumer annoyance, but rather the domino effect on our economy that stems from job losses and a loss of food security for vulnerable communities.

The takeaway from all of this is that a healthy carbon dioxide supply chain is no less than a necessity. And the best way to build and protect a healthy supply chain is to ensure that we have a robust infrastructure network that facilitates supply meeting demand. That means carbon capture projects that boost our carbon dioxide supply, sequestration projects that maintain market balance, and carbon dioxide pipelines, which are the safest and most cost-effective transport method.

To learn more about investment in carbon management in the U.S., check out our recent blog post on new funding from the Department of Energy.