the majority of carbon dioxide molecules are carried as part of the bicarbonate buffer system. In this system, carbon dioxide diffuses into the RBCs. Carbonic anhydrase (CA) within RBCs quickly converts the carbon dioxide into carbonic acid (H2CO3). Carbonic acid is an unstable intermediate molecule that immediately dissociates into bicarbonate ions (HCO3-) and hydrogen (H+) ions.
The newly synthesized bicarbonate ion is transported out of the RBC into the plasma in exchange for a chloride ion (Cl−); this is called the chloride shift. When the blood reaches the lungs, the bicarbonate ion is transported back into the RBC in exchange for the chloride ion. The H+ ion dissociates from the hemoglobin and binds to the bicarbonate ion. This produces the carbonic acid intermediate, which is converted back into carbon dioxide through the enzymatic action of CA. The carbon dioxide produced is expelled through the lungs during exhalation.