Carbon dioxide (CO₂) has been used for years in the food and beverage industry for a number of different manufacturing processes. From breweries and wineries to carbonated drink production and food preservation, many manufacturers have relied on CO₂ as a vital part of their processes.
While CO₂ has been the gas of choice for many years, times are quickly changing. Shortages of carbon dioxide supply due to the closure of manufacturing plants are causing rising costs which has made CO₂ unattainable for many manufacturers. Many businesses are now weighing up their options – is there a suitable alternative to CO₂ for food and beverage manufacturing?
Nitrogen is quickly becoming the go-to gas for use in manufacturing instead of CO₂ and there are many benefits to using nitrogen – sustainability, availability, function and more. Here we delve into what has caused the CO₂ shortages and why manufacturers in food and beverage industries should consider making the switch to nitrogen.
Why is carbon dioxide (CO₂) in short supply?
Carbon dioxide, widely referred to as CO₂, is a gas found in our atmosphere. Usually odourless, colourless and non-flammable at a normal temperature, it can be produced in many different ways. It is also one of the most important greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
CO2 has been a constant in the food and beverage industry with its use often found in:
- The preservation of fruits, vegetables and grains.
- The production of carbonated fizzy drinks.
- Preservation of food items through freezing.
- Breweries – for the brewing and manufacture of beer.
While many producers have relied on CO₂ for manufacturing processes for years, this is all about to change as we prepare ourselves for a CO₂ shortage, particularly here in New Zealand. Marsden Point Oil Refinery was once a big producer of CO₂ with CO₂ being produced as a by-product of the oil refining process. This gas was then filtered and sold as a preservative to the food and beverage industry where it was used for things like packaging salads, meats and cheeses which helps to prolong the shelf life of the food.
The Marsden Point refinery received its last shipment of crude oil earlier this month. After this oil is processed, work will begin to close down the refinery. As reported by Stuff, a Countdown spokeswoman said that a shortage of CO₂ could increase the prices of some products like ready-to-eat meals, meat, cheese and carbonated beverages, as a result of the closure.
We’re not the only ones set to experience CO₂ shortages either. It’s been reported in the United Kingdom that the rise in wholesale gas prices is having an impact on the production of carbon dioxide which in turn is resulting in supply chain issues that are leading to shortages in shops, and a rise in food prices.
The benefits of using nitrogen instead of CO₂
With CO₂ shortages expected to occur, many in the food and beverage industry have been searching for a suitable alternative for their CO₂ needs. Nitrogen is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that is the most plentiful element in Earth’s atmosphere. Nitrogen gas (N₂) is growing in popularity as many manufacturers see the benefits of making the switch to this gas. Here we outline why you should consider switching from CO₂ to nitrogen.
Availability of nitrogen
As we have already mentioned, CO₂ shortages are beginning to arise and manufacturers may no longer be able to rely on this gas for their food and drink packaging needs. Having a secure supply of gas for things like packaging fresh foods so they don’t decay or for the manufacture of carbonated drinks and beer is vital to many food and beverage businesses so that they can keep operating.
As an alternative to CO₂, nitrogen gas can be generated on-site as part of an existing compressed air installation or through the use of a nitrogen generation system, in place of carbon dioxide. Being able to produce your nitrogen gas in-house will save the stress of worrying about supply shortages as you will be able to produce your nitrogen when you need it.
Nitrogen is easily comparable to CO₂
Nitrogen can function just the same as CO₂ when used in food and beverage manufacturing environments. As stated by the British Compressed Air Society (BCAS), nitrogen can be used in place of carbon dioxide in places like smaller breweries, to remove oxygen when purging tanks which will then prevent oxidation and contamination. Nitrogen can also be used for clean in place (CIP) pipework and vessel purging in the food processing industry. Modified atmosphere packaging is used to replace oxygen with nitrogen, which will significantly slow the process of decay in food.
As sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint becomes a focus not just here in New Zealand but across the globe, many businesses are looking at ways they can reduce their carbon emissions.
The two main greenhouse gases in New Zealand are carbon dioxide and methane. Together, they make up 88 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases. The government has set several greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, up to the year 2050. It’s important that we all play our part in reducing the amount of methane and carbon dioxide we’re producing so that we can all work towards a common goal – tackling global climate change.
CO₂ is commercially produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, such as natural gas, coal, diesel or oil. This of course has a very large carbon footprint and the sustainability impact is big with 87 percent of all human-produced carbon dioxide emissions coming from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil. In comparison, nitrogen is a naturally occurring gas, making up approximately 78% of the earth’s atmosphere, and it takes very minimal effort to extract. Making the switch to nitrogen could be a simple solution for many businesses that operate in the food and beverage industry. Simply replacing a portion of CO₂ with nitrogen will significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
Nitrogen can be easily produced in-house, as long as you have the right nitrogen generation set up. In comparison to CO₂ which is often purchased from another manufacturer, switching to nitrogen will be very cost-effective in most situations.
Nitrogen can be manufactured as a by-product of the air compression process, which can reduce the cost by up to 90 percent when compared to purchased third party nitrogen cylinders. Many compressed air manufacturers will offer a range of different nitrogen generation systems that will work in unison with standard industrial compressed air systems. With a nitrogen generation system, pre-treated air is filtered, and the oxygen, water and carbon dioxide are removed. This leaves pure nitrogen, which can be captured at the source, and reused for other processes like food and beverage manufacturing.
This video explains the benefits of on-site nitrogen generation and the potential cost savings.
As you now know, there are lots of benefits to be had by making the switch from CO₂ to nitrogen. Not only can you significantly improve production and supply, but you can also operate more sustainably, all while saving on manufacturing costs.
At Industrial Air Systems we’re experts in industrial air compressors. We have worked with many businesses both big and small across New Zealand, to help them with their compressed air and nitrogen generation needs.
If you’re considering the switch to nitrogen, then our range of nitrogen generation systems could be the perfect fit for your business. From containerised packages to complete factory installations, we have a range of different nitrogen systems available that are suited for varying needs. With current CO₂ delays, we also understand how important it is to have quick access to an appropriate substitute like nitrogen. We’re committed to holding nitrogen generators in stock, to meet your manufacturing needs.
To learn more about our range of nitrogen generation systems, simply download the free brochure by clicking below.