Could Dry Ice Shortages Hamper the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Across the UK?
Just before I start the main body of this text there is something I need to explain. Dry Ice is a perishable product. That is, as soon as it is produced, it starts to sublimate back to gas. And the smaller the amount, the quicker it disappears. So 3kg of dry ice will disappear in about 5 hours. 300kg of dry ice will disappear in about 6 days and there are many variable factors involved which can speed up the sublimation process.
Dry ice is produced via Co2 capture. Captured Co2 is liquidised to LCo2 which is then compressed into dry ice.
As of yet, the UK hasn’t experienced the type of shortages of dry ice being witnessed in the US. This is mainly due to a surplus of Liquid Co2 (the source material for dry ice production) being carried over and stored from the decimated airline industry. The Aviation industry use dry ice blocks and slices to chill food and drink on flights, and without planes in the air, dry ice is not needed and thus the current surplus.
Our main Liquid Co2 supply also emits from the ammonia/fertiliser production companies in Europe, rather than America’s Ethanol production which has a current low demand/production due to being COVID-19 effected and so our stocks have been pretty good throughout the year.
This, however, is about to change rapidly in the coming months.
As it is now well documented, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will use dry ice for its ultra-cold transportation. 1000’s of tones of dry ice will be manufactured directly by Pfizer at its German plant. This in turn will rapidly diminish current stock of Lco2 across Europe and current capture/liquidising plants will not have the capacity to keep stocks high.
And this is just the start! When the vaccine is rolled out to a more ‘granular’ level, local GP’s etc across Europe and the UK, even more production dry ice will be needed, and even more Liquid Co2! The UK does not capture much of its own production Co2, so we have limited supplies of Liquid Co2 for dry ice production, which means, basically, we are totally exposed to European supply chains to which we are no longer a part of.
As a prediction, 90% of the UK liquid Co2 supply is imported from Europe (I may get corrected on this!) The 2018 outages of Ammonia production plants across the EU, a major source of Co2/Liquid Co2 production, showed just how vulnerable to shortages we are in the UK.
And with mass production of the vaccine now underway, most of Europe’s LCo2 will be snapped up by Pfizer in Germany/Belgium etc, which leaves the UK facing huge shortages and huge problems with the cold chain logistics of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Hopefully, alternative vaccines will be produced that won’t require such large quantities of dry ice in transportation, but until that time, fingers crossed we can source enough Liquid Co2 to manage!