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Carbon monoxide junked for making plastic

Using a catalyst, chemists can swap in the less dangerous carbon dioxide

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Carbon dioxide can take the place of its noxious, explosive relative carbon monoxide as an ingredient to make everyday plastics and detergents.

Carbon monoxide has been a staple in manufacturing because it easily reacts with other chemical building blocks to create larger molecules.

Now, chemist Matthias Beller and colleagues at the University of Rostock in Germany have found a way to ditch the dangerous compound for carbon dioxide, which is naturally less likely to break apart and share its atoms.

By adding a squirt of alcohol and a dash of a catalyst containing the metal ruthenium to a variety of chemicals, the researchers coaxed carbon dioxide to give away one of its oxygen atoms. The resulting carbon monoxide doesn’t stick around long, instead reacting with the other chemicals.

The finding, published February 11 in Nature Communications, could lead to a safe, inexpensive way to produce a wide range of chemicals and materials.

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