No, carbon does not qualify as a mineral. While it forms naturally, is a solid, and is mostly inorganic; carbon does not have a consistent chemical composition, and the atoms are not orderly enough.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain this is greater detail.
How Do You Know If Something Is A Mineral?
To be considered a mineral geologically, the substance, material, element, or compound must meet all five of the following critera:
- Forms in nature without the involvement of humans, though humans can make it
- Inorganic, that it can come from organic materials
- Consistent Chemical Composition
- Orderly Internal Arrangement
If the substance misses even one of these requirements, it cannot be considered a mineral. (source)
Does Charcoal Form in Nature Without the Involvement of Humans?
Right away, we are faced with the issues that “charcoal” means many things.
Geologically, it can mean a fibrous substance occurring in thin layers in bituminous coal.
It can also mean the substance that is created when organic matter is burned incompletely (meaning not all the way).
It can also mean the commercial briquettes that are made so people can easily barbeque in their back yards.
It can also mean that powder people use on their teeth in an attempt to make them look whiter.
In this portion of the inquiry, we’ll focus away from whether humans make charcoal, because it is pretty clear that humans do.
In fact, most people argue that all charcoal that is formed is made by humans, and that anything which might be nature-made charcoal is actually coal.
Though humans do make charcoal, we aren’t the only way. Charcoal can be created through volcanic activity or other fire activity.
It is also found as layers in or near coal deposits.
Since fires and burning can occur without human involvement, we would argue that the answer to this question is yes.
Is Charcoal a Solid?
Yes, charcoal is a solid. While we might not see it in big blocks or in rocks like coal, the material is not a liquid or a gas. We often see it as a layer of black sitting on partially or mostly burned up wood.
We would argue that the evidence supports a yes to this question.
Is Charcoal Organic of Inorganic?
The determination about organic vs inorganic has little to do with the presense of impurities or pesticides. Chemically speaking, a material or substance is organic if the elements that make it up contain carbon to hydrogen (C-H) chemical bonds.
If it does not contain C-H bonds (like gold, or salt for example), then the substance is considered to be inorganic.
Charcoal is mostly carbon (C). This is where things get tricky for charcoal, though the analysis has been straightforward thus far.
Charcoal is mostly carbon. It’s other impurities could be hydrocarbon or even other minerals.
If the carbon does not contain any other organic materials, it could pass this question.
But in most cases, because charcoal is formed usually from organic materials that are incompletely burned, charcoal probably does contain at least some organic materials, even if just in trace amounts.
Charcoal perhaps could pass this question, but probably doesn’t.
We think that the answer is no, charcoal is not inorganic.
We also see that people argue that charcoal is automatically an organic material simply because it comes from the burning of organic material (like wood). The origin of the material (organic or not) is not dispositive.
All that matters is what the material contains at the time of analysis. If there are no C-H bonds, then it is not organic.
If the wood was fully burned through leaving only carbon and no impurities of any kind, then the resulting charcoal would be inorganic.
Does Charcoal Have a Consistent Chemical Composition?
This is where charcoal really starts to struggle in this analysis. As noted above, charcoal is mostly carbon.
But it usually contains impurities of any number of compounds or minerals, depending upon what material was the basis for its creation.
Burning is also not something that is methodical or consistent.
It varies depending on the circumstances and the environment.
This means that pieces of charcoal may have more or less of the impurities, and the chemical composition of the charcoal will vary wildly.
This is perhaps the strongest reason as to why charcoal cannot be considered a mineral.
If you sample charcoal in Arizona and compare it to a sample in Japan, the chemical composition is likely to be very different.
We think the answer to this is no, charcoal does not have a consistent chemical composition.
Does Charcoal Have an Orderly Internal Organization?
Charcoal is not a material with consistently similar make up, both in an individual piece as well as charcoal in various locations around the world. Its internal structure across a piece varies tons.
The impurities are not chemically bonded to the carbon, and thus have the ability to spread themselves out willy nilly or hang out in clumps.
As a result, charcoal fails this requirement.
While charcoal is close to being considered a mineral, it fails because its impurities lead to inconsistent composition and varied structure.
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