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21st Oct 2015: Greene King brewery gas leak – carbon dioxide in breweries

Author: Kate Ingham - Analox
Expert Content Management System

On Thursday 15 October 2015, a carbon dioxide leak occurred at the Greene King Brewery on an estate in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

Emergency services were sent to the incident and nearby residents were evacuated as a precaution.

Twenty people were rescued from the building, and the incident was quickly taken control of.

Thankfully there were no injuries as everyone involved reacted quickly, but it could have been a very different story. This blog post will look at carbon dioxide in breweries – how it is made, what uses it has and more importantly… how it can be monitored.

What is carbon dioxide?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) gas occurs naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere, albeit at a very low concentration (0.04%, or 400 ppm).  It’s an important greenhouse gas, and important in regulating the earth’s temperature, but in higher levels it can be very toxic. Carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in the air, so increased levels can either lead to asphyxiation or poisoning. When there are elevated levels of the gas, all it takes is two or three breaths to render a person unconscious, especially if they are in a confined space. Carbon dioxide is hard to detect as it is colourless, tasteless and odourless, so by the time someone realises they are being exposed, it is too late.

Carbon dioxide in breweries

Carbon dioxide is a natural by-product of the fermentation process in breweries – this happens when yeast reacts with the sugar in the alcohol. Carbon dioxide is also added to make the alcohol fizzy and to purge process tanks. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, and the gas settles at low levels. In 2012, there were two tragic incidents in Germany where staff leaned into a brewery tank and were instantly overcome by fumes.

A carbon dioxide level of 0.5% average over eight hours is the normal international safety limit agreed by HSE and OSHA. A level of 5% is enough to cause unconsciousness.

So, what’s the best way to monitor increased levels of carbon dioxide in breweries? With a gas monitoring system.

Analox offer both fixed and portable gas analysers for monitoring CO2. The Ax60 was developed in response to gas leak incidents in the beverage and hospitality industry and continually monitors for CO2, with visual and audible alarms if gas levels climb above acceptable limits. It consists of a wall-mounted central display, sensor units and alarm units.

The Aspida is a robust portable alarm, meaning that staff are protected wherever they are in the brewery. The Aspida can also be wall-mounted as a back-up to a primary gas detection system. Similar to the Ax60, the Aspida has visual and audible alarms, as well as a ‘man down’ button for emergency situations.

So – if you would like help and advice regarding a CO2 solution for your company – be it a well-known brewing brand or an up-and-coming microbrewery, please contact Total Lab Systems today.