Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide (CO) has long been used in Auburn and around the world as a piece of the first attempts to provide a flammable gas for light in the nineteenth century prior to the successful demonstration of electric arc and incandescent lighting. At a “gas works,” coal was fired in a depleted oxygen environment, producing hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. This gas was compressed and distributed in many locations around the world, substituting for whale oil but still creating a need for “lamplighters” to open individual valves, and light the burner (and close the valve in the morning).

This manufactured gas over time found a easier process of generation: through specialty designed coking ovens that changed metallurgical grade coal to coke, to be used as a source of carbon to convert iron to steel. The gaseous byproduct from these ovens was a more enriched version of the original gas with a higher concentration of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, some methane, and less carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The oven design and operation became relatively standardized, and this gas became widely known as Manufactured Gas Type B.

The demand for coke expanded quickly, as the US and Europe seemed to have an unquenchable appetite for steel. Coking operations provided a regular uninterruptible source of this gas. Like many of the other technical innovations during this period, the gas was simply consumed as an energy and heat source in steel finishing, but its availability eventually generated additional markets in metal processing and early chemical synthesis once its properties were more fully digested.

In today’s world, while coke is still a critical part of steel making, the majority of the commercially produced carbon monoxide is created in top of the line plants located near chemical manufacturers who need a regular supply of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. In these plants, coal has been replaced by steam reforming of natural gas, again in a somewhat depleted atmosphere so that the natural gas carbons are only partially oxidized to carbon monoxide, rather than fully oxidized to carbon dioxide.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, toxic, flammable gas that has many applications. It is used in organic synthesis to produce everything from ethylene to dimethyl ether (DME) and methanol. CO can be used in the textile industry to test flame resistance. Grade 4, 99.99% pure CO can be found in electronic and semiconductor applications. High purity CO has prevalent application in lung diffusion mixtures, mixed with high purity oxygen, helium and nitrogen to create a breathing atmosphere to measure pulmonary functions by measuring exhaled CO concentrations over a series of breathing cycles. And the largest PurityPlus requirement utilizes Grade 4 Carbon Monoxide in carefully prepared cylinders to blend extremely accurate and stable trace level mixtures for environmental, health and safety monitoring equipment calibration.

While Carbon Monoxide has many uses in Auburn, you want to speak with someone who understand how you plan to use it and what to keep in mind. Call Spec Air Specialty Gases today at or contact us online for your Auburn needs.