VISALIA, Calif. — When it comes to dry ice, many people have likely seen it in a Halloween decoration, much like Tim Gentry before he started as a regional manager for Pacific Dry Ice.
“I came into this industry knowing that dry ice was very cold and that you played with it on Halloween, and that was the extent of my knowledge,” Gentry said.
What You Need To Know
- Tim Gentry has become a industry expert on dry ice
- Pacific Dry Ice’s manufacturing plant in Visalia produces two million pounds of dry ice each month
- Dry ice has now become high demand, as it is crucial for delivering COVID-19 vaccines in order to keep them extremely cold
- Gentry is confident his company will be able to get enough liquid carbon dioxide
Five years into the job and he has become an expert on dry ice. Gentry said Pacific Dry Ice’s manufacturing plant in Visalia produces two million pounds of dry ice each month, serving the entire state of California. It's used in ways most people do not think about.
“Whether it’s shipping lab specimens to airline travel to overseas travel to online food purchases,” he said.
Dry ice has now become high demand as it is crucial for delivering COVID-19 vaccines in order to keep them extremely cold. The FDA plans to review two vaccines, but Pfizer’s vaccine must be shipped and stored at negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
Gentry said his company, which has six manufacturing facilities nationwide, is already fielding calls from federal and state officials about potential orders.
The problem, however, is there could be a shortage of liquid carbon dioxide which turns into dry ice after it is frozen. Gentry said there are natural deposits of carbon dioxide, but it is also a byproduct of ethanol plants and oil refineries, which is their main source for the Visalia manufacturing facility.
As more people stay at home during the pandemic, the demand for oil and gas has dropped. According to Gentry, refineries are slowing down and less liquid carbon dioxide is available.
“Our supply from that source has diminished quite a bit and the irony is that we need that now to help fight the pandemic and supple the ice for the vaccine, which will help everyone get back to work,” he said.
Dry ice also goes through a process called sublimation, turning into carbon dioxide gas at room temperature — making hard to create ahead of time and stock up. There are also safety concerns when it comes to transporting large quantities of dry ice with vaccines in airplanes because the carbon dioxide can displace oxygen, making it hard to breathe.
The FAA classifies dry ice as a “hazardous material.” In a statement, the agency said it is “working with manufacturers, air carriers, and airport authorities to provide guidance on implementing current regulatory requirements for safely transporting large quantities of dry ice in air cargo.”
When the time comes to make enough dry ice to keep up with vaccine shipping demands, Gentry is confident his company will be able to get enough liquid carbon dioxide.
“It’s walking a fine line with the supply that we have and making sure we take care of our current customers with the obligation to help fight this COVID thing and supply the vaccines,” he said.