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Thread: Question about charcoal/carbon and effect on soil health

  1. #1 Question about charcoal/carbon and effect on soil health 
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    Firstly, I don't have a science background, so please forgive me if anything I write is incorrect or is in layman's terms.

    I am also not sure if this is the correct area of the forum.

    Anyway, here I go:

    I am doing some personal research on the effects of charcoal/carbon in soil.

    I have found that it adsorbs some harmful compounds, up to a point, at which it can no longer adsorb more.

    The question I have now is:

    Is there any point after this maximum adsorption (or even before it), at which harmful compounds, chemicals, toxins, etc. can be released back into the soil from the charcoal? For example, the compounds which are held in the charcoal begin to leach out as the charcoal breaks down? Or some compounds are released, or produced by, bacteria acting upon it? Or some other chemical breakdown or reaction?

    If there is any possibility of the charcoal/carbon releasing something harmful back into the soil, what would you suppose that substance would be? And what would be the likely effects? By "harmful," I mean, that it would likely be detrimental to the soil health overall, i.e. it's suitability for plant growth and beneficial organism support, dramatic shifts in pH, or anything else.

    If possible, please try to word any replies in layman's terms, for someone without a science background or knowledge of the related jargon.

    I appreciate any assistance you can offer.

    Thank you!


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  3. #2  
    Bullshit Intolerant PhDemon's Avatar
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    It is possible to remove the adsorbed pollutants from activated charcoal. In the lab we tend to heat it up to around 100 C for a few hours... This is unlikely to happen in the soil

    Generally the pollutants are pretty tightly bound in the carbon and you need to heat it to remove them, I suppose it is possible if the pollutants are soluble some may leach out but most will stay in the carbon.


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  4. #3  
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhDemon View Post
    It is possible to remove the adsorbed pollutants from activated charcoal. In the lab we tend to heat it up to around 100 C for a few hours... This is unlikely to happen in the soil

    Generally the pollutants are pretty tightly bound in the carbon and you need to heat it to remove them, I suppose it is possible if the pollutants are soluble some may leach out but most will stay in the carbon.
    Thanks a lot for your reply. Very insightful, and is a step in the right direction to getting a definitive answer to my question. So there is at least one circumstance in which negative substances might leach back out (if they are soluble). But I guess even if they did, that doesn't mean that the initial benefit of the charcoal adsorbing them would have been for nothing.

    The more I think about it, the more I realize that probably the only scenario that I am concerned with would be one in which whatever substances came back out of, or were created from, the charcoal, were more harmful than those which initially were adsorbed. That would mean that they outweigh, in a negative way, the benefits of having the charcoal in the first place. I am doubting that could happen, but I don't want to make assumptions.

    Thanks again
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  5. #4  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rare_Plant_Guy View Post
    Firstly, I don't have a science background, so please forgive me if anything I write is incorrect or is in layman's terms.

    I am also not sure if this is the correct area of the forum.

    Anyway, here I go:

    I am doing some personal research on the effects of charcoal/carbon in soil.

    I have found that it adsorbs some harmful compounds, up to a point, at which it can no longer adsorb more.

    The question I have now is:

    Is there any point after this maximum adsorption (or even before it), at which harmful compounds, chemicals, toxins, etc. can be released back into the soil from the charcoal? For example, the compounds which are held in the charcoal begin to leach out as the charcoal breaks down? Or some compounds are released, or produced by, bacteria acting upon it? Or some other chemical breakdown or reaction?

    If there is any possibility of the charcoal/carbon releasing something harmful back into the soil, what would you suppose that substance would be? And what would be the likely effects? By "harmful," I mean, that it would likely be detrimental to the soil health overall, i.e. it's suitability for plant growth and beneficial organism support, dramatic shifts in pH, or anything else.

    If possible, please try to word any replies in layman's terms, for someone without a science background or knowledge of the related jargon.

    I appreciate any assistance you can offer.

    Thank you!
    you should think of charcoal as a container, the carbon atoms forming a lattice construction being very porous (much like a spunge) so it has a capacity to trap molecules
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  6. #5  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope Paleoichneum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by perdurat View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Rare_Plant_Guy View Post
    Firstly, I don't have a science background, so please forgive me if anything I write is incorrect or is in layman's terms.

    I am also not sure if this is the correct area of the forum.

    Anyway, here I go:

    I am doing some personal research on the effects of charcoal/carbon in soil.

    I have found that it adsorbs some harmful compounds, up to a point, at which it can no longer adsorb more.

    The question I have now is:

    Is there any point after this maximum adsorption (or even before it), at which harmful compounds, chemicals, toxins, etc. can be released back into the soil from the charcoal? For example, the compounds which are held in the charcoal begin to leach out as the charcoal breaks down? Or some compounds are released, or produced by, bacteria acting upon it? Or some other chemical breakdown or reaction?

    If there is any possibility of the charcoal/carbon releasing something harmful back into the soil, what would you suppose that substance would be? And what would be the likely effects? By "harmful," I mean, that it would likely be detrimental to the soil health overall, i.e. it's suitability for plant growth and beneficial organism support, dramatic shifts in pH, or anything else.

    If possible, please try to word any replies in layman's terms, for someone without a science background or knowledge of the related jargon.

    I appreciate any assistance you can offer.

    Thank you!
    you should think of charcoal as a container, the carbon atoms forming a lattice construction being very porous (much like a spunge) so it has a capacity to trap molecules
    Rare_plant_guy already seems to understand to that level, and was wondering about the permanence of the atoms after being absorbed and bonded to by the carbon...
    If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. -Thorin Oakenshield

    The needs of the many outweigh the need of the few - Spock of Vulcan & Sentinel Prime of Cybertron ---proof that "the needs" are in the eye of the beholder.
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  7. #6  
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    [QUOTE=Paleoichneum;610251]
    Quote Originally Posted by perdurat View Post
    Rare_plant_guy already seems to understand to that level, and was wondering about the permanence of the atoms after being absorbed and bonded to by the carbon...
    Precisely.
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