2021's Miseries: The Great Creatine Shortage

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/20/2021 08:56:00 AM

By now, it should be obvious to just about everyone that goods whose availability we once took for granted are in short supply. Blame COVID-19 lockdowns affecting countries where these goods are being produced, a breakdown in air/sea/land transport logistics, and so on. The pre-COVID-19 world was built on distributing manufacturing facilities where things could be made most efficiently, assuming fairly inexpensive shipping even across vast distances. Is that world now gone? We'll have to wait and see if and when the pandemic subsides.

In the meantime, here's another not-quite-amusing example for those encountering these shortages: A few days ago, I noticed that my supplies for the exercise supplement creatine monohydrate were running low. I experienced sticker shock while scanning current selling prices. Briefly, what creatine does is replenish the body's supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels muscle contractions such as while performing resistance training. It turns out that most of creatine's precursors come from (surprise!) China. As many of you are probably aware, China has taken a zero tolerance approach to confronting COVID-19 outbreaks. With production centers and major port cities not immune to these recurrent lockdowns, creatine supplies have taken a hit. Here is a detailed and enlightening discussion of the ongoing creatine shortage from the Natural Products Insider:

Strict export regulations and regional COVID-related limitations are slowing China-originating supply chains for two top sports nutrition energy ingredients, caffeine and creatine. Outside of China, suppliers and manufacturers are clamoring to beef up inventories of these increasingly hard-to-find materials but face steeply rising prices for whatever supply they can secure [...] Similarly, the price of creatine has risen from its consistent $4 per kilo to between $10 and $14/kg.

There is more good detail:

More unique to the sports nutrition industry is creatine, which factors into energy production in the body and is popular with core market users, namely bodybuilders and athletes looking to boost muscle, performance and recovery. “There is a worldwide creatine shortage,” confirmed Jeff Golini, Ph.D., executive scientist for All American Pharmaceutical, who confirmed all the raw material to manufacture creatine comes out of China, meaning this shortage impacts all forms of creatine, from monohydrate to hydrochloride (HCl).

Thus, while suppliers such as AlzChem Trostberg GmBh (Creapure) and All American Pharmaceutical (Kre-Alkalyn) make their ingredients in Germany and Montana, respectively, their starter materials come out of China, placing even these suppliers in the impact zone. What’s behind the shortage is not quite clear and asking different “insiders” results in varying answers, including lots of guesswork and perspectives.

Vitajoy sells both caffeine and creatine, and Crane said as far as he can tell the shortage is related to the pandemic. His sources suggested COVID-related issues in the northern area of China, where most creatine factories reside, caused production facility closures. “I believe that is what might have started the ball rolling,” he reasoned. “From there it was reported that there were some starting material issues and, before you knew it, any availability in creatine was gone.”

Worse yet, the US-China trade conflict seems to be worsening availability: 

Golini attributed the shortage to changing world politics, including the recent U.S. presidential administration transition, and the ongoing global power struggle involving trade. “China now is saying we have a shortage of everything in order to re-control the world market, create demand and raise pricing,” he said. “From creatine to resins to make plastics to pipe to erythritol to you name it.”

“Creatine is $14/kg if you can find it,” Kneller lamented. Crane noted pricing went from around $4 to more than $8/kg in a matter of months. “We feel like we might be seeing some daylight regarding supply in the coming months, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when,” he reasoned. Golini sees a longer struggle. “This shortage for creatine—as a matter of fact, there is none [available]—will continue this entire year, and you will see pricing go through the roof,” he warned.

Then there are the aforementioned regional shutdowns for COVID-19 containment--including areas crucial for creatine supply chains. These include Wuhan itself:

Creatine producers appear concentrated in the northeastern province of Hebei, near the Yellow Sea separating China from both Koreas and Japan [...] In January 2021, Chinese officials locked down the city of Shijiazhuang, the capital Hebei, and other areas of the province due to a COVID outbreak. Hebei Hangwang Import and Export Trading Co. Ltd., Sure Chemical Co. Ltd. Shijiazhuang and other creatine producers are located in this city. However, this restriction was lifted March 25, leaving only the city of Wuhan, Hebei, still under a lockdown that was lifted April 7. According to Made in China, several creatine suppliers are located in Wuhan, where COVID was first detected in China.

The bottom line is supply chain disruptions have become more common and rolling over the past several years due, among several reasons, to trade wars and the pandemic. Many supplement companies have grown to accept this fact, take steps to be better prepared and hope situations improve. “We expect global supply chain disruptions to follow COVID,” Titlow summarized. “The better COVID is managed (e.g. vaccines), the better the supply chain.”

There's even an amusing video online about bodybuilders regarding the creatine shortage as a harrowing event of enormous proportions. These are not quite the best of times for global supply chains; that much is clear.

Oil Crisis? Bah. UK’s Fake Tan Shortage

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/09/2021 03:11:00 AM

There are all sorts of unexpected but fairly amusing shortages occurring worldwide given supply chain snarls that are happening as the world deals with the ongoing pandemic. It seems that spreading out manufacturing and sourcing locations to far-flung areas of the globe makes less sense when logistical hurdles arise due to lockdowns as COVID-19 surges pop up again and again in various key countries.

Take, for instance, ethoxydiglycol. This chemical sourced from places like (surprise!) China are in short supply in Europe. Without it, a lot of formulations for cosmetics cannot function properly. Ever wonder how UK celebrities maintain that year-round glow despite the onset of winter? Well, their beauty secrets may be unraveling real soon unless these supply chain issues are worked out:

The UK could be on the cusp of a cosmetics shortage as prices balloon for a vital chemical used in many eczema creams, fake tans and shampoos. A chemical called ethoxydiglycol has been described as the "unsung hero" of cosmetics. It is part of the formula that improves the way cosmetics are applied to the skin. Without it, many cosmetic products as we know them would be unusable.

Ethoxydiglycol is widely used in cosmetic products because it is soluble in both oil and water-based products, such as propylene glycol, water, vegetable oil and ethanol. The shortage, which is expected to hit UK and European cosmetics manufacturing in the next few weeks, has already seen a near ten-fold price hike. 

While price hikes have become necessary in light of what's happening, they may rise yet further:

Ethoxydiglycol prices have increased from £12.10 ($16.50) to £103 per kg in recent weeks. Many suppliers are now completely out of stock. Minimum order quantities set by many suppliers have also increased from 24kg to 1,000kg. This means that the minimum order to purchase Ethoxydigylcol is £103,000, which will halt production for many smaller businesses who cannot afford to purchase in those quantities.

In keeping with the concept of economies of scale, it's often the little guys who get hurt the most.

Bitcoin's Astounding Environmental Cost

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/01/2021 03:58:00 PM


There's an interesting article in Fortune on the true environmental costs of using Bitcoin as a medium of exchange to replace cash, debit cards, credit cards, and other commonly-used payment methods. Given the enormous amounts of electricity needed for bitcoin mining, it is perhaps no surprise that estimates on the high end find it to be an unsustainable proposition. So much for using Bitcoin for everyday transactions?

The [MoneySuperMarket] report states that each Bitcoin transaction consumes 1,173 kilowatt hours of electricity. That's the volume of energy that could "power the typical American home for six weeks," the authors add. The Bitcoin mining that enables a purchase, sale or transfer, it posits, uses a slug of electricity that costs $176. That number is based on an average worldwide cost per kWh of 9.0 cents over the past 12 months.

What it we lower the estimated price per kilowatt hour to 5.0 cents? Some argue that figure is more in line with global energy costs. I am afraid that does little to make Bitcoin any more sensible as a means to transact given the costs of generating these coins still:

So let's reduce the MoneySuperMarket number from 9 cents per kWh to the 5 cents favored by de Vries. That would put the average cost of producing a coin at around $19,000, which looks reasonable (and underscores the industry's gigantic profitability as price hovers at over three times that level). At 5 cents, the electricity cost per transaction would fall from $176 to roughly $100.

For every transaction you make with Bitcoin, that's what you would be paying in electricity costs. When the likes of Visa and Mastercard can process these sorts of transactions for cents, it puts Bitcoin's true costs into sharp relief. The argument that ever-lower cost locations for mining these coins is a solution has its limits too, with these destinations now discouraging Bitcoin mining as power outages arise as a result.  The global movement of Bitcoin miners eventually becoming persona non grata is a very interesting story in itself, but I digress...

Bitcoin's drawback is that electricity is finite, and what Bitcoin uses, a family or a business can't use. In several nations, Bitcoin mining is imposing severe stress on the grid. Kazakhstan, one of world's leading crypto mining hubs and a top destination for producers displaced by the Chinese lockdown, is suffering blackouts caused by the industry's sudden explosion within its borders. Its government is limiting producers to a fraction of the electricity they're now deploying. Iran has also suffered severe shortages that's led to ejecting producers, and tiny Abkhazia is raiding mines––many of them illegal––to forestall an energy crisis.

The bottom line is that Bitcoin mining in its current form is unsustainable, and so is its use as a medium of exchange.