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I'm more asking this because I'm not sure how far science has come. Pretty much, I've been thinking about the car exhaust system lately. The two main components that lead to hazards from cars are $\ce{CO}$ and $\ce{NO_{$x$}}$. Carbon monoxide is hazardous because it thrives to become $\ce{CO2}$ and robs living beings of the oxygen in their bloodstream to become carbon dioxide. And the nitrogen oxides are hazardous only as that compound, but nitrogen and oxygen are quite harmless as $\ce{N2}$ and $\ce{O2}$.

Would it be possible to separate the oxygen from $\ce{NO_{$x$}}$ and somehow give that to the $\ce{CO}$, and any left over oxygen simply becoming $\ce{O2}$?

This all might be a stretch, but I have an active imagination and like seeking out answers to these questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewL, there are ways you can split a compound into elements, but the process requires energy through the roof to be supplied to the compound(or maybe use a catalyst). Also even if we succeed in splitting a compound, it will react within microseconds with either the same atom or the nearest feasible option to decrease it's energy, because that's why the compounds exist in first place. If you want to split $\ce{CO2}$ you would want to make sure that when the atoms of each element react back, they don't form the same compound (maybe by introducing a more feasable choice, I don't know what) $\endgroup$ – yawar Mar 14 '16 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I got an example $\ce{ 2NaOH + CO2 -> Na2CO3 + H2O}$, here the Carbon dioxide reacts to form, non hazardous componds in general. $\ce{Na2CO3}$ is solid when distilled out from the mixture $\endgroup$ – yawar Mar 14 '16 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ "Carbon monoxide is hazardous because it thrives to become CO2 and robs living beings of the oxygen in their bloodstream to become carbon dioxide." No. $\ce{CO}$ blocks $\ce{O2}$ transport because it binds to hemoglobin more strongly than $\ce{O2}$ and in addition hinders the release of $\ce{O2}$ from hemoglobin at the remaining binding sites. $\endgroup$ – cbeleites Mar 14 '16 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ @cbeleites beat me to it. CO is harmful for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with CO2. $\endgroup$ – aroth Mar 14 '16 at 13:48
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This pretty much what happens (among other processes) in a three-way catalyst of a car:

$$\ce{2CO + 2 NO ->[\mathrm{cat}] 2CO2 +N2}$$

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  • $\begingroup$ for reference : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalytic_converter $\endgroup$ – J... Mar 14 '16 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ And a simpler example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water $\endgroup$ – Nick Mar 14 '16 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick Electrolysis and catalysis are completely different... $\endgroup$ – J... Mar 14 '16 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ @J..., I was referring to a simpler example of decomposition. The title of the question has changed from "can you split a compound into elements", though, making my example less relevant. $\endgroup$ – Nick Mar 14 '16 at 20:42

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