A colourless odourless gas, CO₂, soluble in water, ethanol, and acetone; d. 1.977 g dm⁻³ (0°C); m.p. –56.6°C; b.p. –78.5°C. It occurs in the atmosphere (0.04% by volume) but has a short residence time in this phase as it is both consumed by plants during *photosynthesis and produced by respiration and by combustion.
It is readily prepared in the laboratory by the action of dilute acids on metal carbonates or of heat on heavy-metal carbonates. Carbon dioxide is a by-product from the manufacture of lime and from fermentation processes.
Carbon dioxide has a small liquid range and liquid carbon dioxide is produced only at high pressures. The molecule CO₂ is linear with each oxygen making a double bond to the carbon. Chemically, it is unreactive and will not support combustion. It dissolves in water to give carbonic acid.
Large quantities of solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) are used in processes requiring large-scale refrigeration. It is also used in fire extinguishers as a desirable alternative to water for most fires, and as a constituent of medical gases as it promotes exhalation. It is also used in carbonated drinks.
The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by some 12% in the last 100 years, mainly because of extensive burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of large areas of rain forest. This has been postulated as the main cause of the average increase of 0.5°C in global temperatures over the same period, through the greenhouse effect. Steps are now being taken to prevent further increases in atmospheric CO₂ concentration and subsequent global warming.