CO2 production faces ‘systemic challenges’ – Air Products

The well-documented challenges around producing sufficient high quality CO2 to satisfy US market needs are set to remain live issues in the years ahead, Air Products has warned.

Business Director Jeff Bombich told delegates at the PurityPlus Annual Meeting in San Antonio, focused on specialty gases practices, that the challenge was systemic because the molecular compound was unlike other areas of the industrial gas business in its reliance on sometimes inconsistently available feedgas sources for its production.

“In that respect it is just not the same,” said Bombich. “Plus the systems in place today are not really right-sized for existing demands let alone the extra demand that is coming down the line.”

Bombich emphasised how the liquid CO2 supply chain was leaning on a host of raw-gas sources ranging from from ethanol and ammonia production facilities to natural wells, as well as on hydrogen refining and natural gas processing and waste gas and anerobic digestion.

“That’s the first stage in the process, of course – but it also where CO2 differs from a lot of other gas production. Beyond that range of sourcing options, the production and distribution side is broadly the same, of course.”

Bombich said CO2 supply would require ongoing reinvestment on a large scale partly due to its on/off mode, with some sources periodically going offline.

“And the storage systems are often coming up, short, too. There is not enough safety stock in many contexts. If a business needs frequent deliveries due to a lack of storage, that has the potential to create a problem as soon as supply is affected.”

Bombich noted that three-quarters of CO2 demand is used in food and beverage, but the demand side was growing in other areas too.

“Food in many respects is the essential market, and dry ice use is growing for transport. But there are so many growth areas. Currently about 8% of CO2 use is in water treatment today, and this is clearly growing.”

Other areas of growth include dry ice applications in food packaging and medical storage and transport and dry ice blasting. At the same time, the use of CO2 in hemp and cannabis production , where it is used for cultivation and to extract hemp and CBD, is growing fast in those states where cannabis has been legalised, such as California and Kentucky. And the expectation is that legislation will continue to drive change and growth.

The sources for CO2 supply vary across the US and North America, depending on geography, Bombich noted. While the Mid-West relies on ethanol production for its CO2, in the southern states there is more reliance on wells.

The most substantive potential new sources of CO2  lie in biogas collection and carbon capture, said Bombich, but these have their challenges – the composition can be a bit ‘dirtier’ than some other sources, for example, and purity matters.

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