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How the U.S. Industrial Gas Industry Addresses Supply and Demand Challenges of COVID-19

While social distancing and other measures are in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19, companies are continuing to provide essential products and services as part of the society’s critical infrastructure.

The industrial gas industry, in this context, is:

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security identified the chemical industry, and thereby industrial gases, as essential critical infrastructure during the pandemic, helping to sustain the economy during this time of crisis by providing essential jobs.

Here are three COVID-19 challenges and strategies for leveraging industrial gas solutions to meet them.

  1. An Increase in Demand from Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities for Medical Gases

    The COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly in the US and, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), because it is relatively new there is limited information regarding risk factors for severe disease. Although most people infected with the virus, about 81 percent, will present with mild symptoms, others may present with a critical need oxygen or a ventilator to breathe. Hospitals and healthcare facilities could not have predicted the level increase required to serve infected patients.

    Strategies to keep up with the medical oxygen requirements of COVID-19 positive patients include:
    • Assess and confirm that key components of the hospital’s current oxygen storage and supply scheme are sized appropriately for the increase in oxygen levels required to sustain ventilator use.
    • Maintain oxygen supply by enabling remote monitoring to schedule deliveries.
    • Proactively monitor helium supply for MRI machines.
  1. Producing Meat and Protein Products for Reliable, Timely Supply

    The pandemic created a systematic shift in how people access food. Social distancing measures forced food service businesses to shift to carry-out or delivery-only options or to close completely for the time being. Meanwhile, grocery stores saw a 10 to 15 percent surge in demand.

    Food manufacturers rely on industrial gas companies for commercial-grade gases for food freezing, storage and transport to meet the increased demand for meat and proteins and to address supply chain disruptions. Additionally, companies that are seeing increased demand are turning to industrial gas suppliers for process enhancements.

    One strategy to meet these demands includes:
    • Installing State-of-the-Art Freezing and Chilling Technologies
      Industrial gases companies provide food chilling and freezing solutions that optimize current food manufacturing processes, increase yield and protect quality during transport. Food manufacturers should also consider upgrading their existing technologies and making their production lines more efficient. A free virtual plant audit can be a great first step.
  1. Addressing CO2 Supply Shortages

    The COVID-19 pandemic also introduced a CO2 shortage in the food industry supply chain. One source of CO2 to support the food industry is ethanol plants. Ethanol plants emit the impure gas, and industrial gas companies collect the CO2, purify it and process it into a liquid form for commercial use, in many cases by the food industry. Since various CO2 feed gas plants have idled operations or reduced production due to the recent change in fuel demand, there’s potential for the decreasing supply of CO2 to impact the processing, chilling, freezing and preservation of food in the U.S., and for beverage manufacturers to lose the “fizz” in their products. This shortage is a primary reason the industry came together to form a coalition and sent a letter to the Office of the Vice President of the United States. Furthermore, industrial gas companies are expanding their CO2 supply operations by investing in new plants to meet the increase in demand of customers. 

    One strategy food companies can consider to address this includes:
    • Using Liquid Nitrogen

      While CO2 possesses properties optimal for the safe handling and transportation of food, there is a threat to the CO2 supply in the US. Companies can consider using liquid nitrogen as a viable substitute in some freezing and chilling operations.

      The companies that leverage sophisticated and state-of-the-art technologies can substitute nitrogen in place of CO2 for some processes, and nitrogen supply is not feed gas dependent. So, if there is power, the plants can operate, and nitrogen can be produced. It’s important to be mindful of changes in equipment that s that would require access to the food facility.

As the world navigates the uncertainty that COVID-19 created, companies that take proactive measures to address their challenges will be able to pivot strategically, protect their organizational success, and continue delivering quality goods and services.

To learn more about how Messer is addressing the supply and demand challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

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