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Carbon Dioxide

The compound carbon dioxide (CO2) is now the subject of worldwide attention as being a major component in the untoward concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere. Before the start of the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide concentration was recorded at 280 parts per million or PPM but recent estimates placed it at 375 PPM, a large increase because of man's industrial activities and utter disregard for the environment.

carbon dioxide

If carbon dioxide becomes even denser, scientists warn, this will most likely play havoc on climatic behavior due to global warming. Carbon dioxide as a chemical compound is colorless, odorless and tasteless and is 1.5 times heavier than air.

Flemish scientist Jan Baptist van Helmont discovered carbon dioxide as a chemical compound from his earlier observations that the mass of ash is very much lesser than the actual charcoal when burned in a close container. During the 1750's Scottish physician Joseph Black confirmed Helmont's observations to further reinforce previous findings.

But, it was English chemist Joseph Priestly who initially published a paper about the chemical compound. In 1823, Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday were the first to liquefy carbon dioxide at elevated pressures and in 1834 Charles Thilorier gave the earliest description of solid carbon dioxide or solid ice.

What is the importance of carbon dioxide?

Plants and other forms of vegetation need carbon dioxide to complete its food production cycle. With water, sunlight and carbon dioxide, photosynthesis takes place, which expels oxygen and moisture and promotes growth.

In a properly controlled environment, such as a green house, it was observed that levels of up to 500 PPM of carbon dioxide induce rapid growth in plants while a low of 200 PPM stunts a plant's growth. This phenomenon is also observed among areas where decaying vegetation is present, because this likewise initiates plant growth.

Carbon dioxide finds use in commercial applications, particularly in the production of carbonated beverages as it provides sparkle to our favorite drinks. It also serves as ingredient, which allows the lift of yeast or baking powder and causes bread to rise. A carbon dioxide compound is likewise used to treat water, manufacture aspirin and lead based paint pigments, as well as in the preparation of sodium carbonate.

In industrial applications, carbon dioxide is used over fire extinguishers as an effective fire retardant; also as pressurizing medium and propellant in food aerosol cans, target pistols and as inflating medium for life rafts. Since carbon dioxide is relatively inert and manifests a non-reactive atmosphere, it is used in packaging food such as coffee beans which spoil easily. A modified version of carbon dioxide is used as refrigerant in air-conditioning or cooling installations and also in residential and medical refrigerators and freezers.

How is carbon dioxide produced?

The main source for carbon dioxide that permeates the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal). Thus, excessive use of it increases the accumulation of greenhouse gases. Anything that burns produces a corresponding amount of carbon dioxide, from forest fires to automobile acceleration to jet engines and even small grass fires.

Decaying vegetation also contributes to carbon dioxide accumulation. Man and animals add to the pollution of the environment, because as we exhale oxygen we expel carbon dioxide. The main concentration of excessive carbon dioxide emissions lie with manufacturing plants and power plants, especially those that are run on fossil fuels.

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