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Encyclopedia

Fossil Fuels

Could you imagine life without electricity, heat or fuel? Without these things we wouldn’t be able to eat, to turn on our television, stay warm or drive our cars. Fossil fuels provide energy for these sources, and they provide about 66% of the world’s electrical power. They also supply 95% of the entire world’s energy demands. But they also contribute to global warming, and there are many other  renewable energy sources we can use that are safer for the environment.

What are fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels are non-renewable fuel sources that are found within the top layer of the Earth’s crust. They were formed millions of years ago from the organic remains of prehistoric plants and animals. The dead plant and animal matter sank to the bottom of swamps and oceans and were covered by sand and rock, and as more rock weighed down on them they eventually squeezed out with water.

What are the different types of fossil fuels?

There are three main fossil fuels that we use for energy:

Petroluem/Oil

Crude oil, or petroleum, is a smelly, yellowish-black liquid found in underground areas called reservoirs. It is drilled from the ground and then sent to a refinery. The U.S. does not produce enough oil to supply our demands, so over half of our oil and petroleum products come from foreign countries.

What is petroleum/oil used for?

Petroleum is used for:

  • Heating homes
  • Fueling cars
  • Gum
  • Crayons
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Records

Oil is used to create:

  • Motor gasoline
  • Diesel fuel

Coal

Coal is a black sedimentary rock made up mostly of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur. It is mined from the ground and shipped to a preparation plant where it is cleaned and processed. Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in the U.S.

What is coal used for?

Coal is used mainly for generating electricity, but it is also used for:

  • The steel, cement and paper industry
  • Plastic
  • Medicine
  • Tar
  • Fertilizer

Natural Gas

Natural gas is a colorless, odorless gas composed mostly of methane. It is found near petroleum underground, where it is pumped and travels through a pipeline system to a storage tank. Since it is hard to see or smell, before it is pumped a chemical called mercaptan is added to it. This gives the natural gas an unpleasant odor that can easily be recognized.

What is natural gas used for?

Natural gas supplies the U.S. with 22% of its energy. It is also used for:

  • Large industries like steel, paper, glass and more
  • Medicine
  • Paint
  • Fertilizer
  • Antifreeze
  • Dyes
  • Photo film
  • Propane

What are the benefits of using fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels release millions of greenhouse gases into the air, but they do have some benefits:

  • Provide electricity
  • Fuel for our automobiles
  • Energy for heating and cooling
  • Very cheap

What are the disadvantages of fossil fuels?

There are many disadvantages of using fossil fuels:

  • Produce greenhouse gases
  • Non-renewable energy source
  • Contribute to global warming
  • Deplete the ozone
  • Aid in acid rain

The U.S. relies heavily on fossil fuels for energy, but there are many other renewable energy sources that we can use. You can learn more about fossil fuels at the U.S. Department of Energy website.