CO2 shortage explained: Why we cannot pull Carbon Dioxide from air | Science | News

The unusual CO2 crisis threw pubs and crumpet manufacturers around the country into disarray when they were forced to pull back on production numbers.

CO2 is used in a wide variety of products but manufacturers are running low on supplies – due in no small part to a number of European factories shutting down at the same time.

Late last month, Warburtons announced the company was scaling back on the 1.5 million crumpets produced each week thanks to the gas shortage.

Pub chain JD Weatherpsoons similarly revealed a number of pubs would not be serving any John Smith’s and Strongbow.

According to trade magazine Gas World, this is the worst CO2 shortage to hit the industry in 25 years.

But in a world where CO2 greenhouse emissions are at a record high, how hard is too just pull the gas out of the air?

The problem with capturing atmospheric CO2 is the cost and efficiency of doing so.

It is possible to extract CO2 from the air but the gas only amounts to about 0.04 percent of the air we breathe or 400 parts per million.

Chemists Peter Styring and Katy Armstrong, University of Sheffield, said the there are so few molecules of the gas in the air sucking it out for use would be simply too expensive and too inefficient.

Writing in The Conversation, they said: “We can capture CO2 using what’s known as a sorbent material that either physically interacts or bonds with the gas at a molecular level.

“To capture a viable amount of CO2 from the air, we would need to compress huge amounts in order to pass it through the sorbent, something that would require a lot of energy.”

Dr Simon Dawson, a food sciences expert and senior lecturer at Cardiff University, told the CO2 shortage is particularly dire for the food industry, because of the unique properties of the gas.

He said: “What carbon dioxide does is it acts as an anti-microbial agent, so it reduces the potential for bacteria to grow.

“From doing that you get an extended shelf life and product.

“if you take salads for an example, a bag of salad would be about 15 percent CO2, five percent nitrogen and 80 percent oxygen.

“By reducing the oxygen content and increasing the CO2 you are preventing ethylene from being produced and that’s a compound that gets used by vegetables and it makes them age.

“So by reducing the ageing process you are extending the shelf life of the salad vegetables themselves.”

Adding the CO2 to the packs of salad extends a product’s sell-by date up to around eight days from about three or four “at most’.

The expert said: “When you look at cooked, sliced meats for example, you put about 25 percent CO2 there and you get rid of as much oxygen as possible and the rest of its is nitrogen.

“You want to try and reduce the amount of oxygen in there because it prevents the bacteria from growing.”

Dr Dawson added the issue will dramatically contribute to the problem of food waste, when foods go off quicker.

The lecturer also suggested nitrogen and argon could be viable alternatives to the CO2 shortage but the production of Argon is too expensive for manufactures to deal with.

From a cost perspective, nitrogen is much cheaper to collect but equipment would have to be retrofitted to use it.

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