How NASCAR Can Help Prevent a Beer Shortage

The Coronavirus crisis is threatening our beer. How can more driving solve the problem?

Gasoline Demand is Down

Stay-at-home orders across the country have led to much less driving and, consequently, much less of a demand for fuel.

Most gasoline sold in the U.S. contains about 10% ethanol (although NASCAR runs on 15% ethanol fuel). Because there’s less demand for gasoline, there’s also less demand for ethanol. About 70 of the country’s 200 ethanol plants are idle and another 70 have reduced production.

Corn-Derived Ethanol Creates CO2

When you ferment sugar (like in corn), you get alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). Beer, remember, is produced from grains, not corn. So it’s not the decreased ethanol production that’s the problem: It’s the smaller amount of carbon dioxide being made.

A schematic of how the fermentation of corn produces carbon dioxide and ethanol -- which ultimately affects beer

Fermentation at ethanol plants creates 37% of of the U.S. carbon dioxide supply. Ammonia plants usually kick in another 20% — but those are off line because the fertilizer buying season for farmers is over.

That means we’re not only down ethanol, we’re down CO2.

And That Affects Beer How?

And you can’t have beer (or soda) without CO2. Although the process of brewing beer creates CO2, most small breweries don’t have the equipment necessary to capture the gas.

In addition to using CO2 in beverages, bars and restaurants need CO2 to dispense those beverages.

Major users, like large producers and chains have contracts, but supplies could get tight for the smaller producers who don’t have a locked-in supply chain and struggle with higher cost.

So, in addition to giving us all a little sense of normalcy by starting to race again this weekend at Darlington, NASCAR is doing their part to ensure that their fans don’t have empty coolers and glasses on raceday and beyond.

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