Why is CO2 not an organic compound

Organic substance

What are inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry concerned with?

Inorganic chemistry studies all substances that do not contain carbon atoms. The other substances are the subject of organic chemistry.

Exceptions are the substances carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) and the carbonates that belong to inorganic chemistry. A handful of compounds are sometimes counted as organic and then again as inorganic chemistry. There are hydrocyanic acid (HCN) and its salts, the cyanides, then the cyanic acid (HOCN), the isocyanic acid (HNCO) and their salts, the cyanates and isocyanates, and finally the thiocyanic acid (HSCN), the isothiocyanic acid (HNCS) and their Salts.

We currently (February 2018) know over 137 million compounds, of which only a few hundred thousand are inorganic.

Why is there a distinction between inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry?

There are several reasons.

Some are practical.

  • The number of carbon compounds is greater than the number of all compounds that do not contain carbon.
  • The mechanisms by which the reactions of the carbon compounds take place differ fundamentally from the mechanisms of the other reactions.
  • The conditions under which the reactions of the carbon compounds take place are more moderate than the conditions for the other reactions. CO, CO2 and the behavior of the carbonates resembles the inorganic compounds, which is why they continue to be included among them.

When chemistry began to split into sub-areas such as inorganic and organic chemistry (this was in the 19th century), the number of compounds was still very manageable, and almost nothing was known about the mechanisms of the reactions.

Another reason was more important at the time. Despite great efforts, chemists at that time did not succeed in producing substances that occur in living things.

Today we know that it was due to a lack of knowledge about the appropriate reaction processes. Long, vigorous heating and treatment with reactive chemicals, for example strong acids or bases, were common methods in the early days of chemistry. This can only decompose organic compounds, but not build them up.

You didn't know then. Instead, it was assumed that substances from animate nature contained a mysterious life force (it was called “vis vitalis”), which in principle cannot be created from substances from inanimate nature. The conversion of inorganic substances, not derived from living beings, into organic substances was therefore seen as impossible. Believers (and until well into the 20th century almost all people believed in God) were of the opinion that this was the presumption of an activity that was reserved for God, namely the creation of life, and saw it as blasphemy.

In 1828 Friedrich Wöhler succeeded in extracting urea, an organic substance, from ammonium cyanate, a substance that was then regarded as inorganic. This invalidated the argument just mentioned. For the pragmatic reasons mentioned above, however, the distinction between inorganic and organic chemistry is still maintained.



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