What does an extinct Mississippi volcano have to do with your favorite craft beer? Surprisingly, it has a much larger impact than you might think.
In recent months, contamination of the Jackson Dome volcano is causing small breweries to run out of carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2, which is essential in the brewing process, has been running low across the U.S. for a multitude of reasons, only being worsened by the situation at Jackson Dome.
Jackson Dome, a mass of uplifted terrain from a once-active volcano, has been one of the nation’s largest natural CO2 sources for decades. However, the once dependable gas source has been contaminated with benzene and other hydrocarbons, which are suspected of having leaked in from nearby mines.
Long-term benzene exposure is known by the CDC to cause complications in human blood, including bone marrow diseases and a decrease in red blood cells. “All the raw gas sent to the CO2 firms for liquefaction and purification are faced with contaminated product; thus, they cannot operate at this time,” stated Sam Rushing, president of Advanced Cryogenics, a gas consulting firm. The nationwide shortage is becoming “dire,” Rushing added.
Jackson Dome is not solely responsible for the CO2 shortage. Many gas producers were forced to suspend production during the pandemic, which created lasting ripples in the supply chain.
CO2 is produced in two ways: naturally and synthetically. Manufacturers harvest and process natural sources of CO2 built up underground; such is the case at Jackson Dome. Other manufacturers burn natural gases to separate the CO2 from other molecules, which are then purified and sold commercially.
Unfortunately for consumers, the summer months are typically when gas manufacturers must shut down, most often for maintenance. All these factors have compounded, eventually reaching and impacting consumers.
A more environmentally-friendly option for producing CO2 is being pioneered by researchers, known as carbon recapture. Many factories dealing with fossil fuels have employed carbon recapture technology, which isolates CO2 as greenhouse gases leave the factory. The CO2 is often stored deep underground to prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere, but it is also transported for commercial use.
“There’s been spot shortages across the country since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Chuck Skypeck, a technical director with the Brewers Association. Skypeck also stated that the price of raw materials, such as aluminum for cans and barley for brewing, has been skyrocketing due to inflation. “Some members have thrown in the towel.”
For some small brewers, the cost of CO2 has increased threefold. For others, it has been impossible to deliver any gas at all. For example, Nightshift Brewery, located outside of Boston, was forced to shut down after being told that CO2 deliveries would be stopped indefinitely. This could all lead to more expensive beer for the customer and, in the worst-case scenario, the inability to pick up your favorite brew from a local spot.