Nitrous oxide, the gas used in whipped cream dispensers, contributes to global warming more than 300 times as strongly as carbon dioxide. Could we find an alternative?
Whipped cream cans or dispensers use nitrous oxide (N2O) as an aerosol to create light, fluffy cream in an instant. N2O is used because it is soluble in fat, so it can dissolve into the cream and produce bubbles when the pressure is released. Furthermore, N2O prevents the cream from going rancid.
However, N2O contributes strongly to climate change. I estimate that 1.5 litres of whipped dairy cream (the amount that can be whipped by one cartridge of N2O) has a carbon footprint of 5.4 kg CO2 eq., of which about 55% comes from the production of the dairy cream itself and 45% comes from the release of N2O to the atmosphere.
Could an alternative gas be used as the propellant? Oxygen and carbon dioxide are both soluble in fat, but oxygen would cause the cream to go rancid if stored for too long, and carbon dioxide would cause the cream to become acidic and curdle.
Aside from using handwhisks or electric whisks, which take more time and may not be acceptable to consumers or may be inconvenient in a food service environment, perhaps an alternative design of whipped cream dispenser could be used.
In dispensers that use cartridges of N2O, the gas is released from the cartridge into the container of cream all at once, then the cream/gas mixture is stored and dispensed as required over time.
If the dispenser could be designed such that the gas and cream were stored separately and then mixed together only as the cream is being dispensed at the point of use, this would remove the need to use a gas that prevents spoilage. Perhaps the use of oxygen, which is not a greenhouse gas, would become viable. This operation principle could also reduce waste by allowing only the cream needed to be whipped, rather than whipping a whole dispenser full and only using some of it. Another way in which it could reduce waste is that, in a normal can of whipped cream, some cream remains inside the can after most of the gas has been discharged, because when the interior of the can reaches atmospheric pressure there is no force driving the cream out of the can. If the cream was only dispensed as used, then there would be no need for some to remain in the dispenser and be wasted.