Let’s Understand Fossil Fuel

Energy plays an important role in today’s modern society, it drives our lives and heats our homes. With the day-to-day demand for electricity increasing at an alarming rate worldwide, due to high industrial growth and the extensive use of electrical equipment and gadgets around the modern home has meant that for humans, the availability of energy has never been so important.

With increased energy demand in the form of electrical power and declining fossil fuel energy, means that Alternative Energies and environmentally friendly green fuels to power our cars are now being developed. But, first, let’s understand what are fossil fuels and look at the current situation and where we are today.

The modern world relies heavily on the use of energy obtained from burning fossil fuels. Without this fossil fuel energy, machines will not operate and electricity will not be generated. Electricity is needed for everything from powering the lights in our homes to running the latest high-tech, high-speed rail network across the globe. Our energy consumption and requirements have been increasing rapidly during the last 250 years following the advent of the industrial revolution.

From the age of steam until today this rapid increase in the use of energy has created its own problems of supply and demand. This growing world energy demand has led to increased use and burning of fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources, just to generate electricity and keep the lights on.

About 80% of the energy we today use comes from fossil fuels. The list of fossil fuels is short with the 3 fossil fuel types being coal, petroleum oil, and natural gas. We use these types of fossil fuels in enormous quantities and for good reasons. They are easily available, easy to store and easy to move around the world. The stored fossil energy within them can be quickly released through combustion for cooking, heating, and transportation. The problem with this is that fossil fuels are a finite resource, they are a non-renewable energy source, that is eventually cheap coal (that we burn to generate electricity), cheap natural gas (with which we use for cooking and to heat our homes) and cheap oil (on which our cars and lorries run) will eventually run out in the next 50 years or so.

We know that crude oil, natural gas and coal are all fossil fuels and that “Fossil fuel” is the general expression used to describe any type of “hydrocarbon” material that can be burnt or used as a fuel releasing its energy as heat. They are called hydrocarbons because their chemical structure is based on a combination of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Under extreme heat and pressure, these atoms bond together and create long chains of molecules made up of hydrogen atoms attached to a backbone of carbon atoms. Once formed, hydrocarbons can exist in an almost infinite number of combinations, each with its own unique properties from a solid to a gas.

The three most common forms of hydrocarbons correspond to the three states of matter being: solid, liquid and gas. Coal is a solid, crude oil is a liquid and natural gas is, well a gas. These fossil fuels can be further refined to produce hydrocarbon by-products such as tar, petrol (gasoline) or kerosene from oil or propane, butane, and methanol from natural gas.

We have discussed above the main 3 fossil fuel types used for electricity generation, cooking and heating. At current or increased rates of production, fossil fuel oil and natural gas will be gone in 50 years or so with the price per unit increasing long before that. The burning of carbon-containing fossil fuels generates large amounts of harmful gases and pollutants to the atmosphere resulting in global warming and climate change due to the greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

The best way to reduce these harmful emissions is to remove the use of fossil fuels from electricity generation, and just use gasoline for transportation and natural gas for cooking and heating. But this is not possible so we need to promote energy conservation such as:-

1. Energy conservation by reducing the use of electricity and gas in the home and workplace.
2. Reduce our current oil consumption and waste by driving less or at slower speeds.
3. Look for more ways to reduce our use of fossil fuels and waste.
4. Use other forms of alternative energy sources.

The increased energy demand, depleting fossil fuel resources and growing environmental pollution have led the world to think seriously about other alternative sources of new energy. The basic concept of alternative energy relates to issues of sustainability, renewability and pollution reduction. 

In reality, alternative energy means anything other than deriving energy via fossil fuel combustion. Finding ways to reduce fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions while producing enough energy to support economic development worldwide is a major challenge. There are a variety of new alternative energy sources including solar and wind generation we can take advantage of today to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuel energy.

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