Is there anything that will allow carbon monoxide to be used as a fuel? It is quite toxic, but has attractive properties otherwise (only produces CO2 with no water, also no smoke or soot). Aside from a permanent spark, or a pilot light, I can't see any way of doing this.

Is there some catalyst that will help the reaction? Apparently, platinum can be used as catalyst between hydrogen and air.

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    $\begingroup$ A fuel for what? If you wanted to heat with it, then its conceivable that a pilot light would do the job. If you're wanting to use it in an IC engine, that has been done via wood gasification for some time, though that yields a blend of CO and H2. Any leaks in the system could prove fatal though, so I wouldn't count on it being the next big thing. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 '16 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ A CO driven airplane will not leave contrails because of the absence of hydrogen forming water vapour in the exhaust. That might be interesting for reconnaissance aircraft flying high. $\endgroup$ Apr 26 at 14:51

During WWII many cars were powered by a gasogene engine, which transformed wood or charcoal into a synthetic gas composed by $\ce{CO}$, $\ce{N2}$, $\ce{H2}$ and $\ce{CO2}$. Thus the use of $\ce{CO}$ (albeit not as a pure gas) as a fuel is not something new (the former use of piped coal gas for house heating and cooking has already been mentioned above). I am not sure however about how safe those gasogene engines were.


Carbon monoxide has been used as a fuel but not usually by itself.

The reason why we don't use it much now is that there are better, safer alternatives.

Before the widespread use of natural gas as a fuel (which consists mostly of methane) many cities piped coal gas (sometimes called town gas) to consumers as a fuel. Coal gas is made (obviously) from coal by a process that combines incomplete oxidation and the water gas shift reaction (see the details of how it evolved). The result is a gas containing both CO and H2 with some other ingredients in smaller quantities. Before electricity this gas was the dominant source of street lighting in cities and was commonly supplied for heating and cooking for much longer than that (the UK only phased it out in the 1970s and 1980s when cheap supplies of natural gas were discovered in the North Sea.)

The disadvantage of coal gas is that it isn't as good a fuel as natural gas (having a much lower calorific content) and that it is poisonous because of the CO content (which is where the trope of suicide by putting your head in the oven originated). But it is clearly possible to use a gas containing a lot of CO as a successful fuel and you don't need expensive catalysts to achieve this as it burns well in a suitable device.


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