A shortage of food-grade carbon dioxide is threatening the supply of beer, soft drinks and packaged meats in the US.
Brewers use CO2, which is a byproduct of ethanol production to make their beers fizzy. The ethanol itself is typically blended into the US’ fuel supply, however, the country’s coronavirus lockdown measures have led to a fall in ethanol production and, in turn, the creation of CO2.
This means that brewers, who are already struggling to stay afloat amid falling beer sales, forced closure and mass lay-offs, now may struggle to produce beer altogether over the coming months.
As Sky News reports, the Renewable Fuels Association’s chief executive, Geoff Cooper, estimates that 34 of the 45 US’ ethanol plants that sell carbon dioxide to FMGC companies have either cut production or stopped altogether during the lockdown
Meanwhile Bob Pease, the chief executive of the Brewers’ Association in the US, has said that CO2 prices have shot up by 25% since lockdowns began, due to the lower supply in circulation.
While CO2 is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process and can be captured so that beers are ‘naturally carbonated’, it is also used to flush out oxygen in the bottling and canning process, and to create pressure in kegs so that beer can be forced out of containers.
Pease said that the country’s craft brewing sector gets close to half (45%) if its CO2 supply from these production plants.
“The problem is accelerating,” he said. “Every day we’re hearing from more of our members about this.”
Earlier this month the Brewers’ Association has already warned that members – approximately 5,400 breweries – have seen a 75% fall in sales over the past few weeks, adding that the current situation is “not sustainable” for many small brewers.
The US’ Compressed Gas Association (CGA) wrote an open letter to Mike Pence on 7 April which said production of CO2 had fallen by about 20%, and warned it could fall by as much as 50% by mid-April.
Ethanol production plants in Europe closed in July 2018, putting beer supplies in jeopardy and making headlines across the globe.
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