There are ready-made alternative technologies that could ease the CO2 crisis, it can be revealed.

The Government agreed to pay tens of millions of pounds to reopen a plant that produces commercial carbon dioxide back in September in order to stop widespread disruption to food and drink production.

US-owned CF Industries halted its fertiliser factories on Teesside and Cheshire which create CO2 as a by-product because of the hike in wholesale prices due to an increase in global demand for gas. The rise is a result of countries reopening their economies after the Covid 19 pandemic, an increase in demand from Asia and lower supplies of gas from Russia.

Food grade CO2 is used to stun animals for slaughter, package meats, baby foods, fresh food and baked products by extending shelf life by preventing bacteria and to keep food fresh in transport. It is also used to carbonate water, soft drinks and beer.

The Government announced it would meet the full operating costs to run the CF Industries plant for three weeks and, in early October, a deal to avert another carbon dioxide crisis in the food and drink industry was extended until 2022.

CF Industries has agreed to continue supplies of the gas which should give the government and firms time to find other sources of CO2 but firms will now have to pay more for their CO2.

However, air-cleaning technologies called Needlepoint Bi-Polar Ionisation (NPBI) and Photo Hydro Ionisation (PHI) could provide a way of extending the shelf-life of fresh food and ease the reliance on the UK’s small number of carbon dioxide producers for food and drink of which there are only five.

These technologies have been proven to extend the shelf life of food produce by up to seven days according to tests and could be used by the food and drink industry as an alternative to CO2.

Cambridgeshire-based air purification specialist Clenzair is a provider of both of these technologies in the UK which is already widely used in the USA and can be installed quickly. Bradley Watkins, director at Clenzair, said: “Temperature and humidity are the two main factors affecting the quality of fresh food. Different produce requires different temperatures to stay fresh and if there is too much humidity, this can result in the growth of mould.

“Air quality also impacts shelf-life as if there is bacteria, mould and ethylene gas – the naturally occurring ripening process in fruit and vegetables – in the air this will contribute to the faster decay in unprocessed food.

“NPBI and PHI works by creating ions and hydroperoxides which are both safe naturally occurring elements and are often referred to as mother nature’s cleaning agent. They neutralise germs and bacteria and effectively stop any mould growth. This means that grocer’s where these technologies are installed do not need to rely on such strict temperatures and save time on fresh produce being driven in and out of cold storage every night.”

Watkins said the technology had been tested on two identical sets of fresh produce including fruits, vegetables, bread and meat in one environment with the other environment protected.

Watkins added: “The fresh produce showed virtually no sign of decay after five days in the protected environment while the produce in the other group quickly spoiled.

“In a second test, two identical bowls of fruit over the course of seven days were used, and by day three in the unprotected environment it showed signs of decay and completely decomposed by day seven, whereas all of the fruit in the group remained completely fresh right through to its core.

“These technologies cannot solve all issues surrounding shortages in CO2 but it can make a big impact in extending the shelf-life of food for farms, food producers and supermarkets. This eco-friendly alternative CO2 technology means the UK would become less reliant on carbon dioxide producers and could prove crucial in the lead up to Christmas.

“CO2 is also used to keep food fresh in transport in the form of dry ice and snow. The PHI and NPBI units are small and easy to install meaning they could easily be used in transit to ensure fresh deliveries too.”

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