“CO2, which turns the planet into a giant kettle, is terribly lacking in the British food industry”

Pertes & profits. It may seem strange at this end of the year marked by climate mobilization, but Europe, and particularly the United Kingdom, is thirsty for CO2. This ubiquitous gas, which turns the planet into a giant kettle, is sorely missed by the British food industry. So much so that the Financial Times evokes a «Although CO2 », as we used to speak of an oil shock. Explanation: this gas is widely used in the soft drink, beer and soda industry, in the packaging industry and in slaughterhouses. As it is, for the moment, very complicated to extract it from the atmosphere, it is marketed as a by-product of the manufacture of fertilizers or ethanol.

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This is where the going gets tough. One of the main suppliers to the UK is the US company CF Industries, a producer of ammonia-based nitrogen fertilizer. To produce it, it uses large quantities of natural gas. Small problem, in recent weeks, the price of gas has exploded in the world, and particularly in Europe, by the conjunction of the economic recovery, low reserves and an insufficient supply made worse in the United Kingdom by a shortage of electricity. wind origin.

on one’s last legs

As a result, gas today costs 900 dollars (769 euros) per tonne, while ammonia sells for 700 dollars. As a logical consequence, without warning anyone, CF Industries, headquartered in Chicago, closed its two English factories. Panic among Her Majesty’s brewers and chicken farmers, some of whom find themselves on the verge of bankruptcy. The government found itself obliged to intervene by compensating the producer so that he could restart his installations.

The shortage is more acute in the United Kingdom because of its insularity, but the crisis affects the whole of Europe. Ammonia supplies, and therefore CO2, have fallen by almost half. Of course, this temporary shortage, if it risks drying the throats of English football supporters, will not cause famine, and brewers are developing CO recycling.2 that naturally produces the fermentation of beverages.

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But this story once again illustrates the extreme sensitivity of the global food chain to the fragility of its most innocuous links. A subject that will be widely debated in New York, where the International Summit on Food Systems opens on Thursday, September 23. It will be about China, drought, climate and, precisely, logistics, all of which push prices dangerously upward and fuel shortages. That of CO2 is just an aperitif.