“There has been a lot of challenges with getting the Covid vaccines out, but we have not seen on story around the lack of availability of dry ice. The industry is stepping up.”
Those were the words of Richard Gottwald, President and CEO of the Compressed Gas Association (CGA), as he today (29th Jan) spoke in part one of gasworld’s two-part series devoted to trends and talking points in the carbon dioxide (CO2) business, sponsored by leading dry ice specialist Cold Jet.
Providing great insight, Gottwald provided an update on the state of play in the US after last year’s CO2 shortages and what impact any renewed dry ice demand could have.
Reflecting on the shortages earlier last year, Gottwald remind the audience of the interaction the CGA had with the Government when it submitted a letter to the US Vice-President Mike Pence expressing strong concern that the coronavirus pandemic creates a significant risk of a shortage in CO2.
“Back in April, we were seeing drop offs of somewhere between 25%-30% of the amount of CO2 and that really created a shortage in our industry. Our letter went to the Vice- President’s office, signed by all of these different parts of the industry supply chain expressing this concern,” Gottwald told gasworld TV.
“Then over the course of the next four to six weeks, we had very high-level discussions with the Department of Homeland Security, the FDA, the Department of Agriculture, the President’s Office, all around the availability of food supply in US. This really presented us with a great opportunity to educate people up and down every level of government in this country around the role that CO2 and that our industry plays in society.”
“In the end, as we moved into May and then into June, the supply and demand begin to balance out,” he continued before moving onto current matters. “It was around October when we started hearing about the vaccine rollout. And what we learned, as we all know now, is that one of the vaccines, particularly the Pfizer vaccines, needs an ultra-cold chain for storage and transportation.”
“What is ultra-cold? Dry ice. That’s when we thought, here we go again.”
Already familiar with what such increased demand could result in for the industry, Gottwald explained that the CGA then start reaching out to different organisations, referencing conversations with Pfizer, Operation Warp Speed and members.
“With our members we wanted to get an understanding of what they thought the needs would be, and through all these conversations over a period of four or five weeks, we were able to understand what the demand would be for CO2 to manufacturer dry ice for the vaccine.”
Sharing findings with those listening in to the webinar, Gottwald explained that the CGA calculated that there would be an 5% increase in demand for CO2 to manufacturer dry ice. “It’s not a huge amount, a very critical amount, but not huge.”
“Throughout October, November, I probably spoke to somewhere around 30 news organisations globally, whether it be CNN or BBC or The New York Times, and there was a sudden, huge focus on dry ice.”
“People wanted to know, was there going to be enough dry ice to supply the vaccine. And in our conversations with them, I went through the how dry ice is made, and that we saw the demand was going to be this additional 5%.”
“When speaking to those organisations, the number one question that I got from them was, well, how can you be so sure it’s only 5%? How do you know we’re not going to run out of dry ice? And this takes us back to the spring. I think we gained a lot of credibility in the spring when we saw potential shortages of CO2 hitting the food supply. And we were not afraid to go out there and to talk to the government and say, we have a challenge here.”
“And here we are, let’s say, you know, 30 days into the release of these vaccines and there have been a lot of challenges with getting the vaccines out. But I know I’m confident you have not seen one story around the lack of availability for dry ice. The industry is stepping up. Dry Ice is available to get these vaccines out there. And we continue to believe that’ll be the case as we move through this process.”
2020: Remembered for being unpredictable
Following Gottwald, Dennis Hjort, Vice-President of Global DIMS & IBS at Cold Jet, explained how the manufacturer of dry ice production systems has been involved in the storage and distribution of coronavirus vaccines and how the company has been impacted by the global pandemic.
“If you look back at 2020, for Cold Jet it will definitely be remembered as the year that was very unpredictable,” Hjort said.
“When the pandemic first hit, around April, May, what we saw was that the first disruption within the dry ice world was probably when the airline industry collapsed. With the airline industry come the airline catering companies who are huge, huge takers of dry ice.”
“So there was certainly a little bit of surplus dry ice there, but very much at the same time, people were cautious about going out to the grocery stories, so the whole home delivery market saw a big upward spike, and with the home delivery market comes a lot of dry ice.”
Hjort explained how Cold Jet has played a key role around the world in the first phase of distributing the vaccines.
“With the home delivery market, demand was going up and up, so the dry ice demand was going up and up. It was an interesting period with that home delivery market, but then we came into July, August, and that’s where the first initial talks started around and the whole vaccine coming out.”
“More specifically, we started a lot of talks with the Pfizer and BioNTech companies about how they needed to ship and store their vaccine in a very cold environment. We got in talking to them in a very early stage about how we can help them, but not only us, but also with the industrial gas companies.”
“We have been kind of at the forefront of this for a very long time and really understood what it would take. But in the beginning, it was more from a production standpoint on producing the vaccines, and store the vaccines before the rollout.”
“Everybody came together, and that’s was one thing that I think that was very, very good to see that everybody started working together and everybody was doing stuff that really couldn’t be done, but it was done.”
Hjort continued, “At the end of the day, we pulled through and delivered a complete, not just a dry ice production equipment, but a dry ice plant, so to speak, at all of the Pfizer locations, both here in the US but also in Europe, so they could ship out the vaccines on a timely manner. Cold Jet did all that in 10 weeks, from drawing to delivery.”