That was a key message from Gary Robson, Managing Director at Unisensor Sensorsysteme GmbH, and founder of Sure Purity, when he addressed the room in Session 2 of the Summit here in the city of Chicago.
Within his presentation, Robson looked at what has happened, and is currently happening, in the CO2 market overseas in Europe, with particular focus on the UK. Looking back to the 2021 CO2 shortage in the country, Robson reminded delegates that the UK Government last year supported the country’s CO2 market through striking a deal with CF Industries, paying to keep ammonia production running to keep CO2 supply on-stream.
“The UK Government this year has said it’s not doing that anymore. If you want to produce CO2 from ammonia nitrate sources, the customer, the end user, or the distributor is going to have to pay for it. Hence this new thing called an ammonia surcharge.”
Looking at how this has impacted the market, Robson said, “The price per truck of CO2 in the UK has jumped from £5,000 in September 2021, to £75,000 today. This is completely unsustainable.”
“As a result of that, the UK is now importing CO2 from North Africa and Turkey to help elevate the situation, we are desperate. It’s a really violent situation. When this happens, you can understand why users of CO2 prioritise availability over quality to sustain and keep a business going.”
In addition to looking at these surcharges, quality was another key focus for Robson, and quality issues have also been at the forefront of CO2 shortage and supply strains in the US. “It’s very important we have full traceability from the food safety perspective, and the brand owners have put emphasis on this. They have large amounts of resource involved in ensuring food safety and full traceability.”
“There are a number of black holes on the on the food grade CO2 spec, which are absolutely critical to the safety of using CO2 in beverages. One of them is aromatic hydrocarbons, benzine, and that’s a regulatory compound. You must be able to prove, whether there is benzene or not and at what level the benzene is in the CO2.”
“You must be able to track benzine levels in CO2.”
Benzine was really a buzz word when news of a US CO2 shortage first broke back in August. A widely used industrial chemical, benzine is a colourless, volatile, flammable, liquid mixture of various hydrocarbons that is obtained in the distillation of petrol.
As gasworld has heard at the time, contaminates in CO2 had been identified in the Jackson Dome. The Jackson Dome is Denbury’s primary Gulf Coast CO2 source and covers approximately 200 square miles.
gasworld believes the contamination occurred when Denbury decided to use its existing CO2 supplies for enhanced oil recovery and drill additional wells to feed its CO2 pipeline that supplies merchant CO2 plants.
With the switch, which is said to have been made for economic reasons, came contaminates. gasworld been told that hydrocarbons, including benzene, are impacting the purity of the CO2 as they are not able to be filtered out with current processes.
Capturing CO2 in Brewing
Amy George CEO of Earthly Labs, a Chart Industries company, told attendees that, “When Earthly Labs was founded, the primary driver for carbon capture for breweries was cost reduction.”
Founded in 2016, Earthly Labs is a small-scale carbon capture systems provider based in Austin, Texas.
Since its inception, Earthly Labs has utilised Chart Industries’ cryogenic CO2 storage tanks, vaporisers and regulators as a standard offering to customers, but last year (2021) was acquired by the cryogenic equipment manufacturer.
Sharing case studies with delegates, George highlighted how carbon capture technology can help to enhance a brewing process in a cleaner way, at a time when sustainability is a leading thought for many in the CO2 industry and others alike.
“What Chart’s support we have taken out small-scale platform and accelerate it to a large-scale offering,” George explained.
“We see distributing carbon capture as the future. We need an ecosystem to secure what the industry needs.Not only are we focused on carbon capture, but Earthly Labs is also focused on sustainability in a variety of processes.”
“In addition to brewing, we also have an array of customers in the winery and distillery space. We are constantly being asked by non-traditional sources to purchase non-traditional CO2 and we want to help demonstrate that.”
Is There a Shift from CO2 to N2
Sam. A Rushing, President of Advanced Cryogenics, was next to take the stage, telling attendees that the struggle among refrigerant types has been underway for years, and have all of been driven by supply chain issues, new vendor opportunities, product storages among cryogens and reliability.
“As a product of perspectives among those producing and supplying CO2, and the customers who are seeking the most feasible, reliable, and affordable alternative to current day and longer-term CO2 supply problems, the subject is more complex than transitioning from CO2 to nitrogen alone,” Rushing explained.
“There are more companies that are now converting existing freezers from CO2 to nitrogen, and there are also more new nitrogen freezers than CO2 freezers being ordered today,” Rushing continued.
Given the nature of the two cryogens, liquid nitrogen is colder that liquid CO2, comparing about 20% more effective as a freezing agent than CO2, however, it is historically known for being more expensive.
However, the CO2 to liquid nitrogen is not possible in all applications. Expanding on this, Rushing told delegates, “When it comes to certain applications, such as snow used in packing meat products for shipment, or short-term storage, you can’t make the CO2 to liquid nitrogen conversion.”
Adding to the above, Rushing continued, “Making a long-term move away from current CO2 systems required capital investment and often the consideration for such investments becomes too expensive for many food processors, who ultimately wait out the difficult period of supply.”
“With that, by the time other solutions are decided upon, the CO2 crisis is often resolved.”
Sharing a concluding thought on the current state of the US CO2 market, Rushing said, “I want to believe this ‘perfect storm’ in terms of all the mishaps underway, including shortages and outages from the Jackson Dome will become a part of the history in the CO2 industry, not to be repeated; at least for a very long time.”
Purity Standards and Challenges Update
Sig Mueller of Spectrum Carbonics rounded up the sessions, telling delegates, “It’s really important that we look at the lessons learned in Europe and bring them over to the US.”
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is one of those key trends in the UK that Mueller was referencing here. “The UK has been taking anaerobic digestion (AD) for the past five to 10 years. So, they are ahead of the curve is where we are in the US.”
“Performed in purpose designed facilities, it is a form of upcycling where waste is economically harvested for its valuable constituents,” Mueller told delegates. “Today the leading edge of AD is applying modern science to age old processes and leveraging facility scale to dramatically improve controllability and results.”
Focusing on another major source of biogas, Mueller highlighted the importance that landfills could have on the CO2 market – and that landfill CO2 product could in-fact be made acceptable for food and beverage applications, with support of new thinking and new tools.
Looking at what suppliers need to do, Mueller enthused, “You’re not trying to sell CO2 to your customer, but security.”
Attendees will now break for lunch and some more exhibition time before returning to more discussion and debate this afternoon within parallel session surrounding themes of cannabis, cryogenics and the cold chain, safety and performance, and decarbonisation.
These discussions, and many more, will continue here at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile today. Make sure you keep up to date with the recaps that will be going live straight after the sessions on the gasworld website, and live coverage on our social channels.