is carbon dioxide organic or inorganic

Is carbon dioxide organic or inorganic? Most people know methane is organic, but they often feel confused about carbon dioxide.

Denoted by CO2, carbon dioxide is colorless and rather acidic in nature. It has many different chemical properties like it forms carbonic acid when it interacts with water.

But, again, how do you classify it? So, carbon dioxide is organic or inorganic?

Carbon dioxide consists of two different molecules, and though it contains carbon, it does not have hydrogen, which is why it is considered inorganic. 

Learning More about the Chemical Nature of CO2

A colorless gas, carbon dioxide is a key component of Earth’s atmosphere and a powerful greenhouse gas.

chemical nature of carbon dioxide

It is produced as a result of various chemical and biological activities, including:

  • Fermentation
  • Combustion

And that is the reason why CO2 is responsible for acid rain and climate change. But, it is essential for the survival of plants, which need it for photosynthesis.

And since oxygen is the by-product of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is indirectly important for humans as well.

Not only this, you will also find CO2 being used in many industrial products, such as:

  • Life jackets
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Refrigerants
  • … and many more!
Fact: The two planets Venus and Mars both have thick atmospheres dominated by carbon dioxide. 

Learning about Inorganic Compounds

When you talk about inorganic compounds, you refer to compounds that do not contain any hydrogen molecule to react with carbon and form hydrocarbons.

man holding carbon dioxide model

Some common examples of inorganic compounds are:

  • Salts
  • Non-metals
  • Metals
  • Bases
  • Acids

It is also important to get familiar with the basic properties of inorganic compounds.

For instance, inorganic compounds are:

  • Usually without any oxygen, hydrogen, or their derivatives
  • Non-volatile in nature and not inflammable
  • Only present as solids
  • Without and carbo-hydrogen bond
  • Present in non-living organisms
  • Capable of forming ionic bonds
  • Not that intricate in nature
  • Highly reactive 

Is Carbon Dioxide Organic or Inorganic?

So, is CO2 organic or inorganic? Well, it is inorganic because the carbon in a hydrogen-bonded molecule is what makes a substance “organic.”

smoke from factory

While water contains both hydrogen and oxygen atoms, carbon dioxide only contains carbon and oxygen atoms and no hydrogen.

This proves that CO2 is not a substance with organic chemistry. 

Carbon Containing Molecules in the World

According to the most recent count, there are somewhere around 20 million unique organic compounds.

Quite interestingly, new chemicals are being developed every day in labs throughout the world. It is possible that some of these materials could be useful in a scientific study. 

scientists conducting a research

But, others would most probably end up in a product designed for commercial use.

Every time we think we have a good grasp on the total amount of known organic compounds, more are discovered, rendering our previous estimate obsolete.

Fact: It is only at pressures more than around five times Earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level that you get liquid CO2. 

Carbon Dioxide and Organic Chemistry

The study of organic chemistry encompasses a wide and intricate range of topics.

Organic compounds vastly outnumber inorganic ones, with the former numbering in the millions.

The answer concerns the extraordinary nature of carbon’s structure and bonding properties.

chemical symbol of carbon

Because it can provide four electrons, carbon forms four distinct covalent bonds. Carbon is capable of forming extensive chains of carbon atoms and ring-shaped structures by repeatedly bonding to itself.

 The covalent bonds might be single, double, or triple. Many nonmetals can also form covalent bonds with carbon, such as:

  • Nitrogen
  • Oxygen
  • Hydrogen
  • Halogens 

The Concept of Carbon-Containing Compounds

Cellular carbon-containing compounds were once assumed to be synthesizable solely by living organisms.

Because of this characteristic, those substances came to be known as organic compounds.

tree absorbing carbon dioxide

Even though it was ultimately established that carbon-containing compounds could be created from inorganic components, the label “organic” has persisted.

Today, carbon-containing molecules with covalent bonds are considered “organic,” while carbonates and oxides are not.

Fact: Because plants need CO2 for photosynthesis, you can increase their growth by supplying more CO2. 

More about Carbon Dioxide as Being Inorganic

Generally speaking, inorganic compounds are those composed of two or more non-carbon atoms bound to form a molecule.

atom representation

It is also possible that they do not contain any carbon atoms at all.

In addition, the majority of inorganic compounds have certain properties.

For instance:

  • They are made up of one or more metal atoms
  • They are non-flammable
  • They are soluble in water
  • They have high melting and boiling temperatures

And carbon dioxide meets all these requirements. 

Establishing Carbon Dioxide as Inorganic Chemical Compound

To create carbon dioxide, two oxygen atoms bind with a single carbon atom.

illustration of a car

And you already know that when a chemical has one or more carbon atoms coupled with one or more hydrogen atoms, it is established as an organic compound.

Some examples of organic compounds are:

  • Nucleic acids
  • Fats
  • Enzymes
  • Sugars
  • Hydrocarbon fuels
  • Proteins 

The Properties of Organic Compounds

To understand more about inorganic compounds, it pays to learn a bit more about the properties of organic compounds. For instance:

man kills fire using fire extinguisher

Organic compounds are:

  • Characterized by the availability of carbon atoms
  • Extremely volatile and inflammable
  • Present as gases, solids, and liquids
  • Not soluble in water
  • Capable of forming covalent bonds
  • Poor conductors of electricity and heat
  • Not able to make salts
  • Not capable of reacting fast

Carbon dioxide is inorganic because it lacks any hydrogen atom needed to form a covalent link with the free carbon atom. Carbon dioxide molecules also share other inorganic compound characteristics, such as:

  • Being nonflammable, which explains why they are utilized in fire extinguishers
  • Being able to dissolve in water and help to generate carbonic acid 

Why is CO2 Inorganic but CH4 is Organic?

CH4 or methane is considered an organic compound commonly used in the petroleum industry. Now, many people think that both CH4 and CO2 are gases, but why is methane organic but CO2 is not.

methane flame

Methane is the simplest member of the homologous sequence of hydrocarbons, alkanes. Similar chemicals, such as ethane, propane, etc., follow it in the same category.

According to what has been established thus far, organic substances are those that include both carbon and hydrogen.

Methane is an organic substance because its single carbon atom forms four hydrogen bonds.

As was also said previously, carbon dioxide is an inorganic substance since it lacks a carbon-hydrogen link.

Fact: Carbon monoxide is nothing like carbon dioxide, as unlike CO2, carbon monoxide does not occur naturally in the atmosphere. 

The Role of Carbon Dioxide in the Environment

Carbon dioxide is the fourth most common gas in the atmosphere, with its atmospheric quantity being higher than 400 ppm.

Atmospheric concentrations were roughly 270 ppm prior to industrialization.

But, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased by around 40%, causing a rise in global average temperatures.

carbon foot print

The truth is that carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas contributing to global warming by keeping the heat in the atmosphere.

Earth would be an inhospitable ice planet if not for it.

However, rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations are having a domino effect on the global climate, raising average world temperatures and influencing other climatic factors. 

Carbon Dioxide and the Carbon Cycle

Carbon dioxide is essential to the Earth’s carbon cycle, the network of mechanisms that recycles carbon in various forms.

earth covered by hands

Both volcanic outgassing and forest fires contribute significantly to the CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere.

For instance:

  • The release of energy from food is called respiration, and it results in the release of CO2.
  • Humans release carbon dioxide when they exhale.
  • Slash-and-burn agriculture, wildfires, and internal combustion engines also release CO2.

Now, it is the responsibility of plants to utilize all that CO2 during photosynthesis and release more oxygen into the atmosphere.

But, quite obviously, plants are unable to handle that much of a load, which is why the issue of climate change is becoming so severe.

Real-Life Uses of Carbon Dioxide

Today, you can find CO2 being used in many real-life situations.

For instance, small canisters of pressurized CO2 are used to:

  • Inflate life vests
  • Inflate tires
  • Power paintball weapons

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is also utilized in some fire extinguishers because it cannot burn. Similarly, carbon dioxide is what makes soda pop fizzy.

Yeast also produces carbon dioxide during fermentation, which is responsible for the foamy top of the beer and the fizz of champagne. 


carbon dioxide symbol with leaf and clock

Is carbon dioxide organic or inorganic?

Any chemical whose molecules consist entirely of carbon and hydrogen (sometimes called ” hydrocarbons”) is considered to be an organic compound.

What you should understand is that carbon is not the only element included in organic compounds. 

Hydrocarbons, or carbon-hydrogen bonds, have to be present in these substances. But because carbon dioxide lacks this component, it cannot be considered an organic substance.