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Fossil Fuels - discovery, utilisation and future

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Fossil Fuels As industry developed and increased, as did the need for reliable and efficient fuels to power the new machinery developed. It did not take long before fossil fuels were discovered, with their innate ability to provide high amounts of energy at seemingly low costs. Fossil fuels are found deposited in rock formations. They were formed between 350 million and 50 million years ago, and so, although are technically renewable, it would take this long to remake them, which does not really help us today, it is due to the fact we need this long to make them that they are considered nonrenewable, and therefore will at some point run out. The processes by which they formed are not totally understood, other than that sediments buried decayed remains of ancient plants and/or animals. This is then effectively baked over millions of years under conditions of very high temperature and pressure, creating coal, oil, and natural gas, which consist of roughly 90% carbon Fossil fuels are used widely in all forms of industry, in fact, coal, petroleum and gas provides over 90% of the energy used in most industrialized countries, compared with just 9% which hydroelectricity and nuclear power provide together. When looking at the properties of a good fuel, it is easy to see why fossil fuels are used: * A fuel should react with an oxidiser to release large amounts of energy - carbon based fuels ...read more.


Fossil fuels such as oil are made into these products through a series of different processes. First the oil is fractionally distilled then the different sections join together to make polymers. These synthetic plastics and solvents are used largely in everyday life, such as polystyrene cups and PVC plastic. Secondly, the burning of carbon based fuels produces large amounts of carbon dioxide that is one of the main contributors to the "greenhouse effect". There are such drastically high levels of carbon dioxide in the air that the only real solution would be to ban all use of fossil fuels, but countries have become so dependant upon them that is not feasible. Thirdly, spillages of fossil fuels cause serious damages to local environments. When an oil tanker crashes, immense amounts of sea life and birds die, and the effects are disastrous. Fourthly, inefficient burning of fossil fuels results in the production of carbon monoxide, which is a very harmful and poisonous gas. Inhalation of this gas is likely to cause death as it interferes with the transport of oxygen in the blood stream. Fifthly, combustion of fossil fuels also produces gases such as nitrogen oxides, which cause acid rain. In particular we can look at oil. Numerous countries' entire economies now rely on the price of oil, as their entire wealth is in the drilling, extracting, and trading in it. ...read more.


Advantages - renewable, pollution and waste free, can be used in locality to where the energy is needed. Disadvantages - high initial expense, not reliable in calm weather, noise and visual environmental impact * Moving water (Hydroelectricity - water stored behind dams can be released through turbines to generate electricity. Waves - The motion of waves is used to create oscillating motion. Tides - incoming tides in river estuaries fill up large water stores behind barrages, which is then released through turbines.) Advantages - renewable, predictable, pollution and waste free, large scale. Disadvantages - costly to install, environmental impact. * Sunlight (Solar panels - collect solar heat and are used to heat water. Photovoltaic cells - convert light into electricity). Advantages - renewable, pollution and waste free. Disadvantages - Not good for places of low sunlight levels, high initial costs, not very practical for large-scale use. * Geothermal energy (heat from rocks under the Earth's surface can be used to heat water which can, in turn, be used to heat houses). Advantages - practically unlimited. Disadvantages - not widely available, large initial costs * Hydrogen (extracted from water by electrolysis, many things are capable of running on hydrogen). Advantages - no pollution. Disadvantages - people are nervous about using such a dangerously explosive gas, difficult to store and transport. If some of these possibilities were researched further, they could replace fossil fuels and help many of the previously discussed issues. Rachel Orr RZK 14 December 2003 1 ...read more.

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