Carbon monoxide

Structure of carbon monoxide, showing the triple bond between carbon and oxygen atoms.

Carbon monoxide is the inorganic chemical compound with the chemical formula CO, a colorless, odorless gas that is highly toxic to humans. Despite its inherent danger, it is a very useful reagent.



Carbon monoxide burns if ignited in the presence of oxygen, forming carbon dioxide. At high temperatures and pressures it is reactive towards metals, forming metal carbonyls. In organic synthesis, carbon monoxide is a common method for carbonylating a variety of compounds in the presence of a metallic catalyst. It can be reacted with alkenes to form carboxylic acids, its hydrogenation produces methanol. Like carbon, at high temperatures it can reduce metal oxides to their elemental form.


Carbon monoxide is an acutely toxic, colorless, odorless gas at room temperature. It is very difficult to detect without special equipment.


Carbon monoxide is a common industrial chemical, but it is unlikely that it can be easily obtained by private citizens given its toxicity. It typically must be prepared in the lab.


Carbon monoxide is most often produced by the incomplete combustion of organic materials that occurs without sufficient oxygen. However, it is most often produced for lab use by the dehydration of formic acid or oxalic acid using concentrated sulfuric acid. It can also be prepared in impure form by passing air or oxygen through burning coke or charcoal, and then once more through hot but non-burning charcoal, including volatile compounds and carbon dioxide as impurities. Passing water vapor through red hot coals, or the addition of water to them will give off a flammable mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas known as "water gas", a type of syngas.

H2O + C → H2 + CO (ΔH = +131 kJ/mol)


  • Acetic anhydride synthesis
  • Metal carbonyls
  • Make sodium formate
  • Make sodium oxalate
  • Methanol synthesis



Carbon monoxide is very toxic and can easily knock a person unconscious due to lack of oxygen. If someone incapacitated this way is not quickly moved from the environment containing carbon monoxide, death is a near certainty. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very easy to dismiss. One must be very careful using or attempting to store carbon monoxide; it is definitely recommended to use it only outside (a fume hood may not be sufficient, but if it must be used then a carbon monoxide detector is a a good idea). Acting irresponsibly with this chemical poses not only a threat to yourself, but to anyone else in the vicinity, so think twice before using it.


Storing carbon monoxide, both as compressed gas and as carbonyl compounds is dangerous, as in case of a leak, CO will rise.


Carbon monoxide should only be released in air if there is no risk of build-up.


Relevant Sciencemadness threadsEdit

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