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Fossil Fuels

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What are Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms.

Fossil fuels which contain high percentage of carbon include coal, petroleum and natural gas. Fossil fuels range from volatile materials with low carbon:hydrogen ratios like methane to liquid petroleum to nonvolatile materials composed of almost pure carbon like coal.

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Types of Fossil Fuels


Coal is a fossil fuel that has been used throughout history, much longer than natural gas or petroleum. Coals early energy use was for heating, dating as far back as the cavemen, as stated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Coal (cont’d)

In the 1700s coal became a widely used source for commercial energy through the use of coal mines. Coal was mainly used to fuel boilers in factories until 1880 when it was discovered that it could be used for energy for homes and businesses. Today coal is still used to produce electricity in coal plants throughout the United States.

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Petroleum is by far one of the most widely used fossil fuels. For example, it is petroleum that is refined into gasoline, which powers most of the personal and commercial vehicles on the road today, as well as fuels many buses, trains and airplanes.

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Petroleum (cont’d)

Petroleum is also used to produce--or in many cases is an ingredient for--many household products, including windshield wipers, dog leashes, trash bags, cosmetic products and tennis shoes. In fact, the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers has published a list of more than 500 products that rely on petroleum for production, which is in no way an exhaustive list.

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Natural Gas

Natural gas is another popular fossil fuel with the Energy Information Administration estimating that 23 percent of the United States energy comes from this fuel source. Natural gas was first used to heat water and light street lamps.

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Natural Gas

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Natural Gas (cont’d)

As technology increased and the harnessing and transportation of natural gas became more feasible, the uses for the fuel became endless in relation to energy. Homes now are heated by the fuel, families cook with it, it helps heat homes across the nation, and helps power both commercial and industrial activities.

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Advantages of Fossil Fuels

• A major advantage of fossil fuels is their capacity to generate huge amounts of electricity in just a single location.

• Fossil fuels are easy to get.• Fossil fuels are very cost effective.• Power stations that make use of fossil fuels can

be constructed in almost any location. This is possible as long as large quantities of fuel can be easily brought to the power plants.

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Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels

• Pollution is a major disadvantage of fossil fuels. This is because they give off carbon dioxide when burned, thereby causing a greenhouse effect.

• Use of natural gas can cause an unpleasant odor and some problems especially with transportation.

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Disadvantages (cont’d.)

• Coal also produces carbon dioxide when burned, compared to burning oil or gas. Additionally, it gives off sulphur dioxide (a kind of gas that creates acid rain).

• Use of crude oil causes pollution and poses environmental hazards such as oil spills when oil tankers experience leaks or drawn deep under the sea. Crude oil contains toxic chemicals which causes air pollution.

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