carbon monoxide

GC: n

CT: Application for the promotion of renewable energy sources: Scientists have developed the first low-cost system for splitting carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen, a process crucial if we want to ramp up renewable energy use in the future. This splitting process has long been identified as a promising way of turning renewables into fuel without increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but until now, no one had come up with a method that was cheap enough to be practical.The solution devised by a team from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland is based on an electrolysis technique using copper-oxide nanowires modified with tin oxide, which splits CO2 with an efficiency of 13.4% running on solar power. The idea that splitting harmful carbon dioxide into its essential parts is good for the planet, as CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase. This is why scientists have been working so hard to find a solution. Once carbon monoxide is released, it can be combined with hydrogen to produce synthetic carbon-based fuels, which means CO2 gets taken out of the atmosphere, and we get clean fuel at the end.

S: SCALT – (last access: 1 December 2017)

N: 1. 1869, so called because it consists of one carbon and one oxygen atom (as opposed to carbon dioxide, which has two of the latter). An older name for it was carbonic oxide gas.
– carbon (n): From Latin carbo, carbonem, ‘a coal, glowing coal; charcoal’. As a non-metallic element, 1789, coined 1787 in French by Lavoisier as charbone.
– monoxide (n): “oxide with one oxygen atom in each molecule,” 1869. From mono- “single”, “one, alone; containing one (atom, etc.),” from Greek mono-, combining form of monos “single, alone,” + oxide (n) , “compound of oxygen with another element”, from French oxide (1787), coined by G. de Morveau (French chemist and politician, Dijon, 1737 – 1843, Paris) and A. Lavoisier (French chemist, Paris, 1743 -1794, Paris) from ox(ygène) and (ac)ide (acid).
2. A highly toxic, colourless, odourless, flammable gas produced industrially for use in the manufacture of numerous organic and inorganic chemical products; it is also present in the exhaust gases of internal-combustion engines and furnaces as a result of incomplete conversion of carbon or carbon-containing fuels to carbon dioxide.
Molecular formula: CO.
CAS Nº: 630-08-0.
3. The gas was first identified by Joseph Priestley (English chemist and theologian, Birstall, United Kingdom, 1733 – 1804, Northumberlan, Pennsylvania) in the eighteenth century, but it was Claude Bernard (French physiologist, Saint Julien, 1813 – 1878, Paris) in 1870 who discovered the affinity between carbon monoxide and haemoglobin which accounts for its deadliness: carboxyhaemoglobin is formed and oxygen transport from the lungs to the tissues disrupted.
In the period between 1772 and 1799, Priestley gradually recognized the nature of this compound and showed how it was different from carbon dioxide, with which it often appeared. None the less carbon monoxide had been well known and extensively studied in the centuries prior to Priestley’s work. As early as the late 1200s, the Spanish alchemist Arnold of Villanova described a poisonous gas produced by the incomplete combustion of wood that was almost certainly carbon monoxide.
4. Carbon monoxide is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and it does not have a direct effect on the global temperature, like methane and carbon dioxide do. However, carbon monoxide plays a major role in atmospheric chemistry, and it affects the ability of the atmosphere to cleanse itself of many other polluting gases. In combination with other pollutants and sunshine, it also takes part in the formation of lower-atmospheric (“bad”) ozone and urban smog.
5. In different parts of the world and in different seasons, the amounts and sources of atmospheric carbon monoxide change:

  • In Africa, for example, the seasonal shifts in carbon monoxide are tied to the widespread agricultural burning that shifts north and south of the equator with the seasons. Fires are an important source of carbon monoxide pollution in other regions of the Southern Hemisphere, such as the Amazon and Southeast Asia.
  • In the United States, Europe, and eastern China, on the other hand, the highest carbon monoxide concentrations occur around urban areas as a result of vehicle and industrial emissions. Fires burning over large areas in North America and Russia in some years can be an important source. The MOPITT observations often show that pollution emitted on one continent can travel across oceans to have a big impact on air quality on other continents.

6. Carbon monoxide uses:

  • Carbon monoxide is a very important industrial compound. In the form of producer gas or water gas, it is widely used as a fuel in industrial operations. The gas is also an effective reducing agent. For example, when carbon monoxide is passed over hot iron oxides, the oxides are reduced to metallic iron, while the carbon monoxide is oxidized to carbon dioxide.
  • In another application a mixture of metallic ores is heated to 122–176°F (50–80°C) in the presence of producer gas. All oxides except those of nickel are reduced to their metallic state. This process, known as the Mond process, is a way of separating nickel from other metals with which it commonly occurs.
  • Yet another use of the gas is in the ‘Fischer-Tropsch process’ for the manufacture of hydrocarbons and their oxygen derivatives from a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide also reacts with certain metals, especially iron, cobalt, and nickel, to form compounds known as carbonyls. Some of the carbonyls have unusual physical and chemical properties that make them useful in industry. The highly toxic nickel tetracarbonyl, for example, is used to produce very pure nickel coatings and powders.

7. Carbon monoxide affection on human health:

  • Carbon monoxide affects healthy and unhealthy people. Increased levels of carbon monoxide reduce the amount of oxygen carried by haemoglobin around the body in red blood cells. The result is that vital organs, such as the brain, nervous tissues and the heart, do not receive enough oxygen to work properly. At very high concentrations of carbon monoxide, up to 40% of the haemoglobin can be bound to carbon monoxide in this way. This level will almost certainly kill humans.
  • For healthy people, the most likely impact of a small increase in the level of carbon monoxide is that they will have trouble concentrating. Some people might become a bit clumsy as their coordination is affected, and they could get tired more easily.
  • People with heart problems are likely to suffer from more frequent and longer angina attacks, and they would be at greater risk of heart attack. Children and unborn babies are particularly at risk because they are smaller and their bodies are still growing and developing.
  • Breathing air with a high concentration of CO reduces the amount of oxygen that can be transported in the blood stream to critical organs like the heart and brain.

8. Disambiguation synonyms: carbon oxide (a generic compared to “carbon monoxide”, but may be used as a synonym of “carbon monoxide” if the context is clear enough), carbonic oxide (less frequent), carbon protoxide (obsolete), white damp (rare; term restricted to mining).

S: 1. OED –;;;;; (last access: 30 November 2017). 2. EncBrit – (last access: 1 December 2017). 3. ENCY – (last access: 30 November 2017); SCJ – (last access: 30 November 2017). 4. EOBS – (last access: 30 November 2017). 5. EOBS – (last access: 30 November 2017). 6. SCJ – (last access: 30 November 2017). 7. AUGOV – (last access: 30 November 2017); EPA – (last access: 30 November 2017). 8. TERMIUM PLUS – (last access: 1 December 2017); FCB.


CR: air pollution, carbon , carbon dioxide, combustion , CO2 emissions, fossil fuel, tropospheric ozone.