Carbon dioxide is used in many ways across the UK, from food production to hospital operations. With the news flock with supply warnings, the Press Association has looked at what is causing the disruption to CO2 supply.

What is the problem with CO2?

The CO2 shortage has been developed after production was paused at two fertiliser factories in northern England. These plants supply 60% of Britain’s CO2.

US firm CF Industries who own the factories, and are blaming rising gas prices for making operations not viable.

Can we get CO2 from somewhere else?

Around 20% of UK’s carbon dioxide is imported from plants in Scandinavia and Netherlands mostly.

However, the rise in energy prices is starting to impact European firms also.

A further 20% of CO2 is produced by other plants in the UK.

What is CO2 used in?

CO2 is used in many areas of production and is vitally essential.

CO2 is used in the UK supply of pork and chicken. While sheep and cattle are still mostly killed using a captive-bolt stun pistol, pigs and poultry are now more often stunned with high concentrations of CO2, resulting in gradual loss of consciousness before they go to slaughter.

It is also used when packaging fresh meats, as COS prevents bacteria and allows for an extended shelf life. It is also used in baked goods to deter mould.

Fizzy drinks and beer also require CO2, and it is also vital to cooling systems used to refrigerate products.

It is also used in the UK in industrial glasshouses to encourage strong growth and can be used to purify drinking water.

NHS usage

CO2 is also required by the NHS. It is commonly used by surgeons to stabilise body cavities during operations and provide better visibility.

It is also used to keep medical supplies at a stabilised temperature during transport.

Are there any alternatives to CO2?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently researching alternative methods of stunning animals after a previous CO2 shortage in 2018 raised concerns about potential supply chain issues.

Studies have suggested that low atmosphere pressure stunning could be an alternative solution.

Recent studies have suggested that low atmosphere pressure stunning (LAPS) could provide an alternative solution.

After brewers were affected in the 2018 shortage, they invested in a technology that allows them to store CO2 produced during fermentation and then reuse it to carbonate the beer.

There are also ongoing investigations into storing carbon dioxide captured from power plant emissions beneath the North Sea.

How can the problem be fixed?

The UK Government announced it had struck a deal with CF Industries on Tuesday to provide financial support to restart the plant. Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Government would support CF “just for a few weeks” at a cost of “possibly tens of millions” of pounds.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the UK’s Food and Drink Federation, welcomed the deal and said product shortages would not be as bad as previously feared if production can restart at “appropriate scale” before the end of the week.

He added: “When we are certain that the immediate supply issues are resolved, we should then work with Government to build resilience into the production of CO2 to protect our food supply chain.”