What Are Fossil Fuels?

A coal burning power planet.

Fossil fuels are hydrocarbon compounds formed through natural processes such as the anaerobic decomposition of dead organisms occurring over many years – up to millions of years. During the period of their formation, the layers of matter are exposed to high pressure and heat resulting in three major forms of fossil fuels: oil, coal, and natural gas.

Composition And Derivatives Of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels have hydrogen and carbon as the major components whose ratios affect the features of the resulting fuels such as boiling and melting points, density and viscosity. Other elements found in fossil fuels include sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen. Derivatives of the three fossil fuel forms include kerosene, diesel, aviation fuel, tar,

Use Of Fossil Fuels

Extensive exploitation of fossil fuels began during the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Before that, exploitation was majorly small scale for domestic fuels. The most exploited form was coal. Coal mining was common across the various ancient lands where it was used for basic domestic purposes such as cooking and lighting, and for secondary industrial functions such as melting iron ores in furnaces. This use of coal triggered the industrial revolution in the US. The success of the internal combustion engine triggered the use of petroleum for industrial processes in the 20th century. Since then, oil and the by-products have become the key driving force for the major economies that rose during the 19th and 20th centuries. Other factors such as advancements in automobile technology has contributed to the increased use of fossil fuels, especially gasoline and diesel. Fossil fuels are also used in the generation of electricity and as raw materials for petrochemical industries.

Fossil Fuels And The Economy

The current world economy is interrelated with the production, distribution, and consumption of fossil fuels. Petroleum in particular has become the primary driving force for economies. Major world economies such as the United States grew during the industrial revolution, which relied heavily on petroleum. Many countries in the world are now dependent on oil leading to a vicious chain of increased, use, increasing prices and a difficulty in transitioning to renewable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly sources of energy. The decrease in petroleum deposits is directly related to the global increase in prices of goods and services. On the other hand, economies of countries endowed with deposits of oil depend on drilling and exportation of these petroleum products to finance their budgetary needs. Among such countries are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq.

Fossil Fuels And The Environment

The use of fossil fuels has raised concerns amongst environmentalists due to the rate of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon released is too high to be eliminated through natural processes. Other elements such as sulfur and nitrogen are also released leading to the formation of the corrosive acid rain. Acid rain contributes to rapid wearing out of monuments and sculptures mainly those made from marble and limestone. Burning coal also releases radioactive elements into the atmosphere such as thorium and uranium. Adverse effects of the exploitation of fossil fuels include global warming due to the greenhouse effect created by emission of carbon into the atmosphere and pollution of air, water, and land during extraction, transportation, and use of fossil fuel and its by-products. Health problems associated with pollution by fossil fuels include respiratory illnesses, premature deaths, asthma, decreased lung function and chronic bronchitis.


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