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Fossil fuels

The Industrial Revolution in Europe in the 19th century fired man’s search for alternative sources of fuel to meet energy needs of the mushrooming industries. With the realization that fossil fuels could meet this requirement, the energy needs of the world were fulfilled for the time being.

fossil fuel

Fossil fuels are called so because they have been derived from fossils, which were formed millions of years ago during the time of the dinosaurs. They are fossilized organic remains that over millions of years have been converted to oil, gas, and coal. Because their formation takes so long, these sources are also called non-renewable.

These fuels are made up of decomposed plant and animal matter. When plants, dinosaurs, and other ancient creatures died, they decomposed and were buried, layer upon layer under the ground. Their decomposed remains gradually changed over the years. It took millions of years to form these layers into a hard, black rock-like substance called coal, a thick liquid called oil or petroleum, and natural gas—the three major forms of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are usually found below ground. Coal is either mined or dug out while oil and natural gas are pumped out. Coal is widely distributed and is easier to locate than oil and gas.

Fossil fuels take millions of years to make, but burn and disappear in seconds. Once they are used, they cannot be reused. People have irretrievably damaged the planet by extracting and burning these fuels. It is best not to waste fossil fuels as they are not renewable. We have to learn to conserve these sources of energy.

Every year, millions of tonnes of coal is consumed as energy. This has led to global warming (greenhouse effect) and the depletion of resources.

At present, the worldwide burning of coal, oil, and natural gas releases billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (measured as carbon) into the atmosphere every year. Burning any fossil fuel means pollution of some sort. Even if the fuel is low in sulphur, the atmosphere contains nitrogen, which combines with oxygen at the high burning temperatures found in boilers, jet, or car engines. This yields nitrogen oxides, which like sulphur dioxide, dissolves in rain to form nitric acid. Both gases are poisonous to humans.

Mining and exploration for fossil fuels can cause disturbance to the surrounding ecosystem. The burning of fossil fuels emits oxides of sulphur and nitrogen into the atmosphere.

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