In various parts of the world—notably in Italy, Java, and Yellowstone National Park in the United States—carbon dioxide is formed underground and issues from fissures in the earth. Natural mineral waters such as Vichy water sparkle (effervesce) because excess carbon dioxide that dissolved in them under pressure collects in bubbles and escapes when the pressure is released. The chokedamp (see damp) of mines, pits, and old, unused wells is largely carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a raw material for photosynthesis in green plants and is a product of animal respiration. It is also a product of the decay of organic matter.
Carbon dioxide has varied commercial uses. Its greatest use as a chemical is in the production of carbonated beverages; it provides the sparkle in carbonated beverages such as soda water. Formed by the action of yeast or baking powder, carbon dioxide causes the rising of bread dough. The compound is also used in water softening, in the manufacture of aspirin and lead paint pigments, and in the Solvay process for the preparation of sodium carbonate. In some fire extinguishers carbon dioxide is expelled through a nozzle and settles on the flame, smothering it. It also has numerous nonchemical uses. It is used as a pressurizing medium and propellant, e.g., in aerosol cans of food, in fire extinguishers, in target pistols, and for inflating life rafts. Because it is relatively inert, it is used to provide a nonreactive atmosphere, e.g., for packaging foods, such as coffee, that can be spoiled by oxidation during storage. Solid carbon dioxide, known as dry ice, is used as a refrigerating agent.
There are three principal commercial sources for carbon dioxide. High-purity carbon dioxide is produced from some wells. The gas is obtained as a byproduct of chemical manufacture, as in the fermentation of grain to make alcohol and the burning of limestone to make lime. It is also manufactured directly by burning carbonaceous fuels. For commercial use it is available as a liquid under high pressure in steel cylinders, as a low-temperature liquid at lower pressures, and as the solid dry ice.