What Are Fossil Fuels?
Fossil fuels made of the remains of dead animals and plants buried very deep inside the earth’s surface for thousands or millions of years are the most common kinds used today to generate energy and many other uses. Over time, pressure and heat within the earth’s surface have converted these remains into fossil fuels. Examples of fossil fuels are oil, coal, and natural gas. Fossil fuels are mined and then burned to release the energy stored inside them to fulfill the world’s energy requirements.
Fossil fuels are widely used due to their abundance and also because it is fairly cheap to mine and drill these fuels. However, these natural sources of energy are non-renewable, which means that they will eventually run out. People cannot make fossil fuels as these are formed over thousands and millions of years from the remains of dead organisms, plants, and animals.
What Are the Uses of Fossil Fuels?
The whole world is highly dependent on fossil fuels, and these fuels have become indispensable to human lives. The United States obtains close to 81% of its energy from fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and natural gas. Before we understand the uses of fossil fuels, let us first understand why we use fossil fuels the most. The most likely answer to this question is that humans are more familiar with fossil fuels as these fossil fuels have been used for decades. Fossil fuels are also readily available and cost much less when compared to other energy sources.
Following are some of the uses of fossil fuels:
1. Electricity Production
Fossil fuels, particularly coal, are largely used to generate electricity. All over the world, coal is widely used as a fuel in various thermal power plants, and not many utilize other fuels such as natural gas or oil natural gas. In fact, in the United States, almost half of the electricity is coal-generated.
From ships to small cars and planes, fossil fuels are used to drive the engine in all these means of transportation. CNG (Compress Natural Gas) and gasoline power small vehicles and cars, whereas trucks, trains, and other heavy vehicles are driven by diesel. In ships, three types of petroleum-based fuels are utilized – Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), diesel oil, and Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (LSFO). Fuel airplanes are Naphtha-kerosene blend (Jet B) or petroleum-based unleaded kerosene (Jet A-1).
Propane gas derived from petroleum is used for cooking and heating homes during the cold seasons.
What Are the Harmful Effects of Fossil Fuels?
For years now, fossil fuels have generated most of the energy required to power our cars and businesses and keep the lights on in our homes. Even coal, oil, and natural gas offer about 80 percent of our energy requirements. Though there have been many advantages of fossil fuels, we must understand that burning these fossil fuels causes a lot of harm. The usage of fossil fuels for energy has put a huge toll on the environment — from water and air pollution to global warming.
Following are some of the harmful effects of fossil fuels:
1. Land Degradation
Unearthing, processing, moving underground gas, oil, and coal deposits have taken a huge toll on ecosystems and landscapes. The fossil fuel industry occupies large stretches of land for infrastructures, such as pipelines, wells, access roads, and facilities for processing, waste storage, and waste disposal. In the case of strip mining, complete swaths of terrain—that include whole mountaintops and forests are scraped and then blasted to expose underground oil or coal. Even after these operations are over, the land can never return to what it was.
2. Water Pollution
Oil, coal, and gas development have innumerable threats to our groundwater and waterways. Coal mining processes wash the acid runoff into rivers, streams, and lakes and dump huge quantities of undesirable soil and rock into streams. The oil, which then spills and leaks during transport or extraction, pollutes the drinking water sources and jeopardizes whole ocean ecosystems and freshwater.
Fossil fuels release dangerous air pollutants before they are burned. In fact, humans are exposed to everyday poisonous air pollution from gas wells and active soils and also from processing and transport facilities. These comprise benzene (associated with blood disorders and childhood leukemia) and formaldehyde (a cancer-causing chemical).
4. Global Warming Pollution
When we burn coal, oil, and gas, we facilitate the present global warming crisis in addition to fulfilling our energy requirements. Fossil fuels emit huge quantities of carbon dioxide when burnt, and the carbon that is released traps the heat in the atmosphere, which leads to climate change.
5. Air Pollution
Burning fossil fuels also emit large amounts of sulfur, mercury, and other tiny particulates, releasing nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere. This nitrogen dioxide is the main culprit of smog formation. Air pollution because of fossil fuels is the cause of serious health problems, specifically respiratory problems.
Other Fossil Fuel Facts and Information for Children
Now that you have understood how fossil fuels have formed, how necessary they are, and their advantages and disadvantages, you can learn some other interesting fossil fuel facts. Following are some of the most interesting fossil fuel facts:
- An estimation has been provided by measuring the R/P ratio (the ratio of reserved fossil fuel versus the current creation rate of fossil fuels) that coal could run out in a hundred and ten years and oil could run out in fifty-three years. In contrast, natural gas could run out in fifty-four years.
- All fossil fuels are created underground for thousand or millions of years.
- All fossil fuels are non-renewable natural resources of energy.
- Fossil fuels are typically made up of hydrogen (hydrocarbons) and carbons.
- Each gram of any fossil fuel provides an enormous amount of energy on combustion and emission of carbon dioxide.
- Following are some of the fossil fuel products:
- Plastic (of all types)
- Compress Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)
- Synthetic fibers
- Organic compounds, such as benzene and its derivatives
- Gases, such as ethane, methane, and so on.
- Coal tar and coking coal
7. Some of the most commonly used alternatives to fossil fuels are:
- Bio-alcohols like ethanol, ethanol, and butanol
- Refuse-derived fuel (RDF), derived from the wastes of many products
- The electricity that is chemically stored in fuel batteries and cells
- Non-fossil methane
- Non-fossil natural gas
- Vegetable oilHydrogen
- Biomass sources
8. The burning of fossil fuels has resulted in a net COâ‚‚ production of about 21.3 billion tonnes each year. Only half of this quantity is predicted to be absorbed by natural processes. Thus, the increase in the net atmospheric COâ‚‚ per year is close to 10.65 billion tonnes.
The world has made huge progress in scaling up energy efficiency and renewable energy over the past decade, thanks to various policies which have helped facilitate a clean energy economy. Today, we are using energy a lot more efficiently than we used to. The right policies can enormously help in a clean energy future by using only the cleanest burning fossil fuel and renewable energy sources.