Organic mineral

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Mellite crystal from Hungary

In chemistry and mineralogy, an organic mineral is a mineral that contains carbon. However, some simple compounds involving carbon are classified as inorganic. Some organic minerals are composed of hydrocarbons, while others are salts of organic acids, as well as some miscellaneous compounds like urea. Organic minerals are rare, generally appearing in characteristic settings like fossilized remains of living organisms. Undiscovered organic minerals are predicted to exist.


In general, an organic compound is defined as any compound containing carbon, but some compounds are excepted for historical reasons. Before 1828, chemists thought that organic and inorganic compounds were fundamentally different, with the former requiring a vital force that could only come from living organisms. Then Friedrich Wöhler synthesized urea by heating an inorganic substance called ammonium cyanate, proving that organic compounds could also be created through an inorganic process. Nevertheless, carbon-containing compounds that were already classified as inorganic were not reclassified. These include carbides, simple oxides of carbon such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, carbonates, cyanides and elemental carbon minerals such as graphite and diamond.[1][2]

Organic minerals are rare and difficult to find, often forming crusts on fractures.[1][2] Early descriptions of organic minerals include mellite in 1793, humboldtine in 1821 and idrialite in 1832.[1][2]


In the proposed 10th edition of the Nickel-Strunz classification,[3] organic minerals are one of the ten primary classes of minerals. The class is divided into three subclasses: salts of organic acids, hydrocarbons, and miscellaneous organic minerals.[4]


Blue fluorescence in a carpathite mineral under ultraviolet light.

As the name implies, hydrocarbon minerals are composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen. Some are inorganic forms of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds. For example, a rare mineral known as either carpathite, karpatite or pendletonite is nearly pure coronene. Carpathite is deposited as pale yellow flakes in cracks between diorite (an igneous rock) and argillite (a sedimentary rock); it is prized for a beautiful blue fluorescence under ultraviolet light.[5] Other PAC compounds appearing as minerals include fluorene as kratochvilite; and anthracene as ravatite.[5][6][7] Others are mixtures: curtisite contains several PAH compounds, including dibenzofluorine, picene, and chrysene, while the most common components of idrialite are tribenzofluorenes.[6] One theory for their formation involves burial of PAH compounds until they reach a temperature where pyrolisis can occur, followed by hydrothermal transport towards the surface, during which the composition of minerals that precipitate out depends on the temperature.[6]

Salts of organic acids[edit]

A salt of an organic acid is a compound in which an organic acid is combined with a base. The largest such group is the oxalates, which combine C
with cations. A large fraction have water molecules attached; examples include weddellite, whewellite, and zhemchuzhnikovite. Oxalates are often associated with particular fossilized biological materials, for example weddellite with cacti; oxammite with guano and egg shells of birds; glushinskite with lichen; humboldtine, stepanovite and whewellite with leaf litter; and humboldtine, stepanovite and whewellite with coal. Where plant material such as tree roots interacts with ore bodies, one can find oxalates with transition metals (moolooite, wheatleyite).[7]

Other salts include salts of formate (CHOO) such as formicaite and dashkovaite; and salts of acetate (C2H3O2) such as acetamide and calclacite.[7]


Some organic minerals do not fall into the above categories. These include nickel porphyrin (NiC
), closely related to biological molecules such as heme (a porphyrin with iron as the cation) and chlorophyll (a magnesium cation), but does not itself occur in biological systems. Instead, it is found on the surface of fractures in oil shales.[7] Urea derived from bat guano and urine also occurs as a mineral in very arid conditions.[2] In some classifications, In the Dana and Strunz classifications, amber is considered an organic mineral, but this classification is not approved by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA).[8] Other sources call it a mineraloid because it has no crystal structure.[9]

Carbon Mineral Challenge[edit]

As of 2016, the IMA recognized ten hydrocarbon minerals, ten miscellaneous organic minerals, 21 oxalates and over two dozen other salts of organic acids.[2][3] However, Robert Hazen and colleagues analyzed the known species of carbon-bearing minerals using a statistical technique called the Large Number of Rare Events (LNRE) model, and predicted that at least 145 such minerals are yet to be discovered. Many undiscovered organic minerals may be related to known species by various substitutions of cations. Hazen et al. predict that at least three more PAH crystals (pyrene, chrysene and tetracene) should occur as minerals. There are 72 known synthetic oxalates, some of which could occur in nature, particularly near fossil organisms.[7] To encourage the discovery of more carbon minerals, the Deep Carbon Observatory launched an initiative known as the Carbon Mineral Challenge.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Seager, Spencer L.; Slabaugh, Michael R. (2013). Chemistry for Today: General, Organic, and Biochemistry. Cengage Learning. pp. 361–362. ISBN 9781285415390. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Wenk, Hans-Rudolf; Bulakh, Andrey (2016). Minerals: Their Constitution and Origin. Cambridge University Press. pp. 473–477. ISBN 9781316425282. 
  3. ^ a b Mills, Stuart J.; Hatert, Frédéric; Nickel, Ernest H.; Ferraris, Giovanni (2009). "The standardisation of mineral group hierarchies: application to recent nomenclature proposals" (PDF). Eur. J. Mineral. 21: 1073–1080. doi:10.1127/0935-1221/2009/0021-1994. 
  4. ^ "Nickel-Strunz Classification - ORGANIC COMPOUNDS 10th edition". and the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy. Retrieved 8 September 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Potticary, Jason; Jensen, Torsten T.; Hall, Simon R. (29 August 2017). "Nanostructural origin of blue fluorescence in the mineral karpatite". Scientific Reports. 7 (1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-10261-w. 
  6. ^ a b c Lee, Milton (1981). Analytical Chemistry of Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds. Oxford: Elsevier Science. pp. 19–21. ISBN 9780323149037. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Hazen, Robert M.; Hummer, Daniel R.; Hystad, Grethe; Downs, Robert T.; Golden, Joshua J. (1 April 2016). "Carbon mineral ecology: Predicting the undiscovered minerals of carbon" (pdf). American Mineralogist. 101 (4): 889–906. doi:10.2138/am-2016-5546. Retrieved 8 September 2017. 
  8. ^ Barthelmy, David. "Amber Mineral Data". Mineralogy database. Retrieved 8 September 2017. 
  9. ^ Artioli, Gilbertolini, ed. (2010). Scientific methods and cultural heritage: an introduction to the application of materials science to archaeometry and conservation science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 373. ISBN 9780199548262. 
  10. ^ Wilson, Elizabeth K. "Worldwide Hunt Begins for Missing Carbon Minerals". Scientific American. Retrieved 8 September 2017.