POET Ethanol Products has been able to maintain a consistent supply of carbon dioxide (CO2) throughout the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic but says there is still  “ongoing allocation” in some geographical areas.

Source: POET Ethanol Products

The company, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, supplies a US customer base with diverse CO2 needs and applications (beverage carbonation, food processing, water treatment and agriculture) from 11 ethanol plants located across the US Midwest.

At full capacity, ethanol plants capture 3 to 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 annually in the US, or roughly 40% of the national supply, according to the trade group Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

POET Ethanol Products is one of the fastest growing CO2 producers and distributors in the US, with over 500,000 tonnes of production capacity.

But stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of coronavirus from March meant reduced cars on the road and fuel demand subsequently dropped 50%, which impacted ethanol and related industries.

Brad Jones, CO2 Sales Manager, POET Ethanol Products, told gasworld, “We’re starting to see things shift back to normal, but there are still pockets of demand in the US that are vulnerable to ongoing allocation. Fortunately, our operations team has been able to consistently deliver and provide our customers with the CO2 they expect during this difficult time. Ethanol demand is rebounding. Ethanol companies regularly monitor the market and make adjustments to production to mirror demand.”

Reduced fuel demand led to ethanol plants being idled, and this tightened CO2 supply in the US. At the lowest point during the shutdown caused by coronavirus, approximately 80 facilities were completely idle, while another 80 had substantially reduced their run rates, according to the RFA.

“At one point in late April, more than half of the ethanol industry’s production capacity was shut down,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper.

“We have seen conditions improve since the low point in April, but ethanol production and consumption remain well below pre-Covid-19 levels.”

US weekly ethanol output dropped to a low of 537,000 barrels per day in April, down from a normal level of around a million. Production then steadily improved and finished on 900,000 barrels per day in July, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“With so many unknowns, POET made quick adjustments to ensure that there would be no disruptions for our CO2 customers, or our operations and our supply remained consistent throughout,” Jones told gasworld.

“We were able to utilise our vertical integration to ensure that there would be no variance in the amount of feed gas required to run our plants at full capacity. The industry had to make adjustments to weather the challenging climate, either by adjusting operations, pursuing new product lines, or in some cases idling plants.”

Industrial gas giant Linde Linde plc is the number one merchant CO2 supplier in the US, according to Intelligas Consulting, a consultancy specialising in strategic analysis and forecasting in the industrial gas industry. Linde accounts for 25% of the US merchant CO2 NP capacity, according to Intelligas.

Linde plc said in a statement to gasworld in July, “Linde is in a good position as we have less reliance on ethanol feedstocks and continue to meet our customer demands. In fact, we are helping others by supplying, where possible, from capacity not utilised by our customers.”

As many bars, restaurants, city centres, sports venues were closed during state lockdowns, a reduced demand meant major CO2 shortages were avoided in the US.

“Fortunately, nationwide CO2 demand destruction seemed to outpace production curtailments, so overall supply/demand seemed to maintain a reasonable balance,” Jones, added.

POET is anticipating summer demand of CO2 in the US to mirror previous summers, assuming there is not another widespread economic downturn.