C02 shortage threatens World Cup beer supply

Posted June 20, 2018 5:38 a.m. EDT

— The football World Cup usually means barbeques, beer, and big summer parties, but these plans could fall flat for many Europeans this year.

A massive shortage of carbon dioxide gas used to inject the fizz into many canned and bottled beverages is said to be threatening stocks of beer and soda.

And the CO2 drought couldn't have come at a worse time.

High summer temperatures, combined with an exciting start to the FIFA World Cup finals in Russia were supposed to be a major boost to beer sales, as spectators across Europe hit bars and pubs to watch the games.

"We are aware of a situation affecting the availability of CO2 across Europe," says Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association. "Given the time of year and the World Cup, this situation has arisen at an unfortunate time for the brewing industry."

No CO2, no fizz

CO2 gas is pumped into some beers to carbonate it. If there's no CO2, then there's no fizz. It's also used in the pouring and packaging of beer.

The shortage is apparently a knock on effect of trouble in the ammonia production industry.

Most food grade CO2 is made using ammonia but a shutdown of various ammonia plants across Europe has caused widespread supply shortfalls, leading to a slowdown in CO2 production.

The shutdowns, according to Richard Ewing, ammonia market editor for petrochemical market information provider ICIS, have been caused by regular maintenance of ammonia plants.

However, the current high prices for natural gas -- used to fuel ammonia production -- is discouraging facilities from reopening.

Recent waves of warm weather rippling across much of Europe have further helped spike demand for soft drinks and carbonated beverages, according to the trade journal Gas World.

'On their hands and knees'

"The shortages of C02 across northern Europe is impacting a wide range of businesses across the food and drink sector," says Gavin Partington, director general at British Soft Drinks Association.

And with no notable increase in ammonia supplies arriving to the large European shipping centers of Antwerp and Rotterdam, it's likely the CO2 crisis will become worse in the next few weeks, says Ewing.

"The CO2 companies are practically on their hands and knees begging the ammonia producers not to shut down," says Ewing.

It's enough to drive anyone to drink... while stocks last.