The world is running out of good carbon dioxide

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, photos across the world of empty supermarket shelves were a harbinger of the coming crisis. As the prices of food and many basic commodities skyrocket around the world, a trend that began even before the pandemic, such scenes could become more common in the future.

The rush to get back to normal is testing supply chains globally. One commodity in short supply is carbon dioxide, which is crucial in the food and beverage industry. The depletion of reserves would put a strain on the production of manufacturers in sectors ranging from poultry to baking.

In Britain, the situation is so dire that the government is planning a “Black Swan Event”, an unexpected and serious disruption. The UK’s food infrastructure is one of the first victims of the carbon dioxide shortage due to other issues in the supply chain, including a shortage of truck drivers due to Brexit.

But rising natural gas prices are at the heart of the problem, and when one step in a supply chain goes awry, the ripple effects worsen. Natural gas is a key ingredient in the manufacture of ammonia, an important ingredient in the manufacture of fertilizers, which is vital for the supply of crops. The production of fertilizers creates carbon dioxide.

Natural gas prices were climbing even before the pandemic. Environmental goals to reduce carbon levels and contain rising global temperatures have led some countries to decline in favor of traditional means of generating electricity, such as coal. This increases the demand for cleaner sources, such as natural gas and renewables. These are still in the early stages of development and capacity is limited, pushing up the price of more reliable natural gas.

If the situation continues, it will be more difficult to resist arguments in favor of a return to more polluting traditional methods. Some British commentators are already lamenting the decision to decommission coal-fired power plants, especially since the country has vast nature reserves. This year, China plans to build 43 new coal-fired power plants, although the country’s President Xi Jinping has said the country plans to cut coal consumption from 2026.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that climate change is already worse than previous assessments, after a key report, United in Science 2021, revealed that the international community is “nowhere near” to meeting the carbon targets set in the Paris Agreement.

The flip side of this complex chain of factors offers many opportunities for innovation. One came last week. BP, Masdar and Adnoc have announced that they will develop low-carbon hydrogen hubs, as well as low-carbon air transport corridors between the two countries. Sustainable fuel is essential if the aviation sector is to support the transition to a low carbon economy. Increasing hydrogen production capacity in the UK and UAE also presents a solution to supply chain issues and helps relieve any pressure to switch back to fossil fuels. It is happening on a larger scale. The Hydrogen Council’s 92 global energy, transportation, industrial and investment companies are working towards a common goal of developing hydrogen for real-world use.

If we are to accelerate our action on climate change without disrupting vital trade and industry, this is the path governments and businesses will need to take. Innovation – along with cooperation and understanding – will nourish and save our planet.

Posted: Sep 19, 2021 3:05 AM

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