Fossil fuel

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Coal burning to provide heat

Fossil fuels are fuels that come from very old life forms that decomposed over a long period of time. The three most important fossil fuels are coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Oil and gas are hydrocarbons (molecules that have only hydrogen and carbon in them). Coal is mostly carbon. These fuels are called fossil fuels because they are dug up from underground.

Uses[change | change source]

Most of the fuels people burn are fossil fuels. A big use is to make electricity. In power plants fossil fuels, usually coal, are burned to heat water into steam, which pushes a fan-like object called a turbine. When the turbine spins around, magnets inside the turbine make electricity.

Crude oil can be separated to make various fuels such as LPG, gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, and diesel fuel. These substances are made by the process of fractional distillation in an oil refinery.

Fossil fuels from oil are the main fuels in transportation. That means that they are burned in order to move cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, trains and even spacecraft. Fossil fuel has become an important part of modern society and without it, there wouldn't be much transport.

People also burn fossil fuels to heat their homes. Coal is not used as much as it was long ago, because it produces a lot of pollution. In many homes, people burn natural gas in a stove for cooking.

Fossil fuels are widely used in construction. In the oil sands in Alberta, about 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas was used per day in 2007 to heat the soil so the oil would come out of the earth.

Problems[change | change source]

A coal burning power station in Poland

Fossil fuels produce a lot of pollution when burned. This pollution is responsible for causing the earth to get warmer, called global warming. They are also non-renewable resources, there is only a limited amount of coal, gas, and oil, and it is not possible to make more. Eventually all the fossil fuels will be used. Scientists think that coal will have run out by 2200 and oil by 2040. Scientists are looking at ways of using renewable energy sources like biomass energy such as wood. Countries are also increasing the use of wind power, tidal energy, and solar energy to generate electricity. Some governments are helping automobile makers to develop electric cars and hybrid cars that will use less oil.

Other websites[change | change source]

  • The Climate Change Guide easy-to-understand information on fossil fuels and their impact on climate change (includes Global Warming)