The key difference between inorganic and organic carbon is that the inorganic carbon is the carbon extracted from ores and minerals whereas the organic carbon is found in nature from plants and living things.
Carbon is a chemical element having the atomic number 6. Moreover, it is one of the basic chemical elements that contribute to the genetic buildup of life on earth. We can find this chemical element in two main sources; inorganic sources and organic sources. We can name the carbon found in each source accordingly.
What is Inorganic Carbon?
Inorganic carbon is the carbon extracted from ores and minerals. Therefore, this form of carbon occurs in inorganic sources. Inorganic sources are the compounds in which it is not essential to have carbon and hydrogen atoms. Moreover, carbon can exist in several allotropic forms. These are also sources of inorganic carbon. Allotropes are compounds that exist in the same physical state with differently arranged atoms. Examples for the carbon allotropes include diamond, graphite, etc. Since these materials show differences in their chemical and physical properties, inorganic carbon differs from each other according to the source.
Examples of Inorganic Carbon Sources
- Oxides of carbon such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
- Polyatomic ions such as cyanide, cyanate, thiocyanate, carbonate, etc.
- Allotropes of carbon such as diamond, graphite, fullerene, etc.
What is Organic Carbon?
The plants and living things are the source of organic carbon. Compounds associated with living organisms are organic. All these organic compounds contain carbon as an essential component while most of them contain hydrogen as well. Moreover, the organic matter in the soil is a major source of organic carbon. This organic matter makes around 2-10% of soil.
Examples of Organic Carbon Sources
- Carbon present in the components in living organisms such as DNA, RNA, enzymes, etc.
- Hydrocarbon fuels
- Alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, ether, etc.
- Carbon tetrachloride urea
What is the Difference Between Inorganic and Organic Carbon?
The inorganic carbon is the carbon extracted from ores and minerals. Therefore, the Sources of this type of carbon include ores, minerals, etc. Whereas, the organic carbon is found in nature from plants and living things; thus, the sources of this type of carbon include plants, living things, soil, etc. This is the main difference between inorganic and organic carbon. Moreover, to consider some examples of both, the carbon present in oxides of carbon, polyatomic ions such as carbonate, allotropes of carbon such as diamond, etc. are examples of inorganic carbon. While, the carbon present in components of living things such as DNA, enzymes, methane, hydrocarbon fuels, etc. are the examples of organic carbon.
Summary – Inorganic vs Organic Carbon
We can find carbon in two main ways as organic and inorganic carbon according to the source. The key difference between inorganic and organic carbon is that the inorganic carbon is the carbon extracted from ores and minerals whereas the organic carbon is found in plants and living things in nature.
1. Libretexts. “Chemistry of Carbon (Z=6).” Chemistry LibreTexts, Libretexts, 14 Dec. 2016. Available here
1.”Carbon cycle-cute diagram”By Kevin Saff on en.wikipedia (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia