Carbon dioxide on tap

CO2 gas tapCarbon dioxide’s two to one oxygen-carbon ratio, CO2, has become the harbinger of doom, it’s the mark of the beast. As a potent greenhouse gas, it is partly responsible for the enhanced greenhouse effect as atmospheric concentrations rise with our burning of fossil fuels. We shall see severe temperatures rise, melting ice sheets, and climate change that will wreak havoc on humanity.

So, what on earth is this CO2 gas tap, I snapped on a visit to the Cambridge University labs all about? Are chemists finding ways to pump yet more of the stuff into the atmosphere, or is it simply a supply to provide a non-reactive atmosphere for a whole range of chemical reactions? Or, more feasible is it a permanent anaesthetic for experimental fruit flies?

Carbon dioxide is used by the food industry, the oil industry, and the chemical industry. It is used in many consumer products that require pressurized gas because it is inexpensive and nonflammable, and because it undergoes a phase transition from gas to liquid at room temperature at a relatively low pressure, just 59 times atmospheric pressure. It can also be converted into a supercritical fluid (SCFs) on which I’ve written at length in the past.

Indeed, SCFs could see the greening of the chemical industry as they provide a non-toxic alternative to volatile organic solvents, can be used to carry out a vast range of reactions and are then recyclable with essentially no losses; unlike VOCs. A feature article I wrote about Nottingham University’s Martyn Poliakoff and his work on SCFs back in the mid-1990s led to a major industrial collaboration for him soon after, which is one of the most gratifying results of any article I’ve written. Apart from getting the cover in The Guardian science section with a story about snake venom painkillers on the day my son was born!

Anyway, that CO2 tap? I’ve casually asked dozens of researcher friends and am yet to get a definitive answer…so if anyone knows, do tell me.

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