Throughout 2021 and 2022, news of dry ice shortages caused concern for the cold chain industry. Companies transporting food, pharmaceuticals and other perishable items rely heavily on dry ice to maintain the integrity of deep frozen shipments. To date, there’s no comparable cooling source. Dry ice is necessary for the cold chain industry.
Dry ice–or frozen CO2–is a byproduct of ammonia, which is used to make fertilizer. Currently, it is the only cooling source that predictably achieves temperatures of -75 degrees Celsius. Phase change material does not hold temperatures that cold consistently, and liquid nitrogen is expensive, more dangerous to handle and too cold to replace dry ice.
For the food and beverage industry, dry ice helps deliver perishables to stores and restaurants or ready-to-make meals to consumers’ homes. The pharmaceutical industry uses dry ice to maintain temperatures of life-saving and health-giving vaccines, cell and gene therapies, biological samples and more. Besides its ability to hold deep frozen temperatures, dry ice also eliminates moisture common with water-based coolants since it turns into a gas when it sublimates.
Without dry ice, transport of many pharmaceutical shipments would require freezer storage. But freezer storage is not always accessible and it’s a costly option for transport. The world witnessed this during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when freezer storage was not widespread enough to keep COVID-19 vaccines frozen and last-mile deliveries were challenged by inadequate cold storage.
While dry ice must be handled carefully since it can pose health risks without proper ventilation or protective equipment, the benefits for cold storage far outweigh the risk. Its versatility and ability to keep perishable products frozen is unmatched. Though we expect to see innovation in coolants that more predictably achieve deep frozen temperature ranges, dry ice will remain important to cold chain for the foreseeable future.