Is nitrogen the answer to the CO2 crisis?

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Nitrogen could be used as a replacement for carbon dioxide in the factory
Nitrogen could be used as a replacement for carbon dioxide in the factory

Related tags Gas Carbon dioxide

Nitrogen could be the solution to the recent shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2) experienced in the UK, according to the British Compressed Air Society (BCAS).

In several applications, nitrogen gas can be used in the place of CO2​ and can be generated in a cost effective way – circumventing the impact the rise in wholesale gas prices is having on the production of the gas.

Vanda Jones, executive director at BCAS, said now was an ideal time for food producers to look at alternative solutions and highlighted examples in food and drink production that could benefit.

Nitrogen uses

“As an inert gas, nitrogen can be used in place of carbon dioxide in smaller breweries, to remove oxygen when purging tanks, thus preventing oxidation and contamination,” ​Jones explained. “It can also be used for clean in place (CIP) pipework and vessel purging, for assisted filling to increaseprocess speed and during bottling to help extend shelf life.

“Elsewhere in the food processing industry, modified atmosphere packaging is used to replace oxygen with nitrogen, significantly slowing down the process of decay by inhibiting oxidation and the growth of microbes.”

Jones also noted that nitrogen ​can be produced as a by-product of the air compression process, which can reduce the cost of bought-in gas, in cylinders or in bulk by as much as 90%.

Captured and reused

“Compatible with standard industrial compressor systems, many manufacturers now offer nitrogen generators, in which pre-treated air is filtered, and the oxygen, water and carbon dioxide removed,”​ she added. “This leaves pure nitrogen, which can be captured at source, and reused for other processes.

“With only minimal investment in an on-site nitrogen generator, this process enables companies to match their production to help meet gas demand, providing greater control over the volume of gas required. Not only could this help improve on-site productivity and ease the logistics of gas storage, but with forecasters predicting that energy prices will continue to rise, it could help to mitigate against future supply-chain issues too.”

Meanwhile, Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of 2 Sisters Food Group and Bernard Matthews has warned the UK faces another cancelled Christmas,​ with the imminent CO2 shortage ‘a massive body blow’ threatening food supplies already challenged by labour shortages.

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