Courtesy photo.

Besides fueling vehicles, ethanol also plays an important role in the food preservation and beverage bottling industries with the carbon dioxide that is captured during the ethanol production process. When the COVID-19 pandemic closed ethanol plants across the Midwest, among the expected outcomes were a shortage of available CO2 for the food and beverage industry.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association, American ethanol plants capture 3 to 3.5 million tons of CO2 each year during the production process. That’s roughly 40% of the national supply of CO2 that’s used for beverages and dry ice production. One bushel of corn, or about 56 pounds of corn, that’s processed via the dry mill ethanol biorefinery process can produce 16.5 pounds of biogenic carbon dioxide along with 2.92 gallons of denatured fuel ethanol.

Dry ice is CO2 in its solid form, and used for everything from shipping foods at stable cold temperatures to creating spooky mist effects at Halloween. Dry ice will also play a critical role in the race to get a COVID-19 vaccine to the public.

As three companies race to safely store and ship COVID-19 vaccines to the public, it’s becoming clear that they’ll all need significant amounts of dry ice to keep the vaccines at the required cold temperatures.

“The Pfizer vaccine under development, for example, will require a significant amount of dry ice to ensure the storage remains at the required minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit,” according to the RFA. Dry ice is used because it stays much colder than regular ice at minus 109 degrees Fahrenheit. And it stays that cold for longer, more stable periods of time.

The large rollout of these COVID-19 vaccines around the country has led to a slight increase in dry ice demand, leading to a slight increase in CO2 demand, according to the RFA. But there’s a hitch to keeping everything cool. Many of the ethanol plants that would be capturing CO2 from their production processes are still idle or operating below normal rates because the demand for fuel ethanol still hasn’t rebounded from the initial pandemic shutdowns this past spring.

“While production of captured CO2 from ethanol plants has improved since the spring, it remains about 25% below what it was at this time in 2019,” according to the RFA. “Before the pandemic, approximately 45 to 50 ethanol plants (about one-quarter of existing plants in the U.S.) captured and sold CO2.” Based on this critical need, the RFA is encouraging U.S. politicians to consider the ethanol industry’s role in providing captured CO2 as they debate additional COVID relief measures.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or


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