Industries across the UK have been hit hard by the shortage of carbon dioxide, caused when two production plants shut down as a result of the rising price of wholesale gas.
Yesterday afternoon the Government struck a deal to get the factories back up and running as soon as possible, but the scramble came after stark warnings about the impact a shortage could have on the continuing Covid vaccine roll-out.
The shutdown happened after a sudden global surge in gas prices has seen the wholesale cost rise by around 250 per cent since the start of this year.
Dry ice - or solid carbon dioxide - is used in the transportation of the Pfizer vaccine, University of Sheffield chemical engineer Professor Peter Styring explained, solving the problem of getting the vials which must be kept at -80c “from the manufacturing site to the freezer and then from the freezer to the clinician.”
He told The Yorkshire Post why a long-term dearth could lead to problems, explaining:: “The Co2 shortage is causing issues in agriculture, in industry and one that really hasn’t been addressed that much is healthcare.
Speaking before the deal with CF Industries was struck he said: “It’s a case of necessity. What would you put more importance on? Delivering vaccines or delivering chickens or fizzy drinks? That’s really a Governmental issue and an NHS issue, but if there are shortages it’s a case of where does the priority allocation go.
“It is rationing if you like.”
If gas prices continue to spike, one large North Sea producer has said it could supply the country with vast amounts, if rules on how much energy can be in the gas could be reduced.
Neptune Energy said that last year it could have produced around an extra 10.7 billion cubic feet of gas if restrictions on calorific value – which measures how much energy is in the gas – had been lowered.
Boss Sam Laidlaw wrote to Mr Kwarteng on Monday to say that the Health and Safety Executive had been looking at the issue.
If companies produce gas with too low or too high calorific content they have to blend it with other gas to change its make-up, otherwise it cannot enter the grid.
But sometimes there is not enough appropriate gas to blend with, meaning oil and gas companies leave gas in the ground that they could otherwise have extracted.
There have also been warnings that the continuing issues could affect next year’s crops, with saying “the price for natural gas has resulted in major producers of fertilisers closing down their facilities.
He added: “The problems are unlikely to be resolved over the winter, as demand for energy in the winter months continues, and supplies of natural gas will remain restricted, and despite Government ministers talking to the energy industry and producers of fertiliser, we should assume this crisis will feed into next year’s crop.
“This has impacted both the livestock sectors where a lack of carbon dioxide used to humanely stun the pigs before slaughter is in short supply and has caused the animals to back up on farm, and the closure of the fertiliser factories has caused the price of fertiliser to double in under a week. Many farmers have sufficient fertiliser in stock to establish their winter crops, but supplies are less certain for spring sown crops.”