If you didn’t come from another planet, you have certainly heard about fossil fuels, both for good and for bad, but how are fossil fuels formed?
Fossil fuels are extremely polemic to modern society: at the same time that they are responsible for a great deal of atmospheric pollution and are largely linked to environmental problems and climate change, they were our main power source for centuries.
So, they are practically a daily subject in the world.
As you can imagine, they are present in most of the things we got contact with. They are even in things that we cannot imagine that depend on them to exist.
Furthermore, do you know how these fuels were formed?
In today’s Hourglass article we will answer this question, and at the same time we will bring you an overview of their context, importance, dangers, and less polluting alternatives. So, follow along with us and find out all about the subject.
What are fossil fuels?
Fossil fuels are formed from natural processes, such as the decomposition of buried organisms, according to the most accepted theories in the scientific community.
These fossil fuels have a high concentration of the element carbon, used as a means of promoting combustion.
Generally speaking, the main fuels are coal, natural gas and oil.
According to Vaz’s data, in 2007 more than 86.4% of primary energy production was due to some of the three fuels above, of which 36% was oil, 27.4% coal, and 23% natural gas.
Completing the picture were nuclear and hydroelectric power, with rather shy numbers.
Considering that energy consumption only increases every year, and that these fuels are non-renewable sources.
After all, it takes millions of years for these resources to be created, since they are not renewed quickly.
Therefore, in a short time these resources will disappear. This is because consumption is outstripping production.
How are fossil fuels formed – Origins
As we have seen above, oil, coal and natural gas are formed from the decomposition of organisms, taking millions of years to be created naturally.
However, this is what experts suggest, and it is difficult to fully prove how fossil fuels were created. Thus, oil itself has two theories: biogenic and abiogenic. Where one refers to an organic and the other to an inorganic origin, respectively.
In the biogenic theory: the oil extracted from the earth’s crust would have an origin similar to mineral coal. Being created from the fossilization of buried animals and plants.
Through fossilization together with high temperatures and pressure over millions of years, substances such as oil and coal were created.
It is even from this theory that the phrase that oil came from the dinosaurs was coined.
The abiogenic theory, on the other hand, argues that hydrocarbons (the inorganic origin of petroleum), the fundamental part of these fuels, formed together with the Earth, in a process known as planetary accretion.
In this theory, the creation of the fuels had nothing to do with the decomposition of animals, but something that was present since the origin of the planet.
Although there are experts who defend the second theory, the best and most accepted theory is that they arose from the decomposition of animals and plants buried for millions of years.
Regardless of which theory is more accepted, something that both agree on is that these substances are finite and non-renewable.
Non-Renewable Natural Resources
Even following the biogenic theory, it is clear that these fossil fuels are not renewable. Because they need millions of years and specific conditions of pressure and temperature, to form again.
Moreover, thinking on a human scale, it is not feasible to wait until they are formed again. So this is a very valid concern. Since these compounds are present in many human processes.
If we think of petroleum alone, it is present in gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, cooking gas, plastics, among many other common things in society.
In older times, it was mineral coal that made everything run. It was used as a source for locomotives, trains and steam ships. Today, coal is present in thermoelectric power plants, in the process of generating energy.
In this way, being finite, they end up generating several problems, should they run out.
However, some experts suggest that although they are indeed finite, these fuels are very abundant, which will guarantee centuries and centuries more of energy generated from them.
But again, this theory is hardly accepted among most experts. Thus, most experts suggest that abundance is no longer a reality, and in a few decades it may run out.
Fossil fuels have had and still have great importance in our society. After all, burning them produces large amounts of energy per weight and they are mega cheap. In addition, their use has contributed greatly to our evolution. Oops, to capitalism evolution.
Coal being used as a fuel predates the earliest records in history. In addition, it was used as a power source for metal ore smelting furnaces.
Even semi-solid hydrocarbons found in cracks have been burned since ancient times, for embalming and sealing sites.
The commercial exploitation of oil dates back to the 19th century, where it was initially used as a substitute for animal oils used in oil lamps.
Natural gas, once burned as an unnecessary byproduct of oil production, is now regarded as a very valuable resource.
Fossil fuels and modernity
Before the mid 18th century, water and wind mills were the manufacturing energy providers.
The truth is it was just with fossil fuels large-scale use that steam engines were able to work and create one of the most important events in economy modern history: the first Industrial Revolution. At the same time, natural gas lighting was also beginning to be widely used.
The cars combustion engine caused a demand increase for gasoline that comes mainly from petroleum, the fossil fuels super star, fundamental to the society development.
In a short time frame, practically all motor-powered transportation needed fuels to run and this demand only grew more and more until nowadays.
We have listed just a few examples of how the humanity evolution made this power source necessary. However, fossil fuels have also brought serious environmental damages.
Environmental consequences and damage
The burning of these fuels produces approximately 21.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.
Furthermore, 50% of this production reaches the atmosphere directly, as natural processes can only absorb half of the amount produced.
The production and use of these fuels is the main cause of the feared global warming.
It also generates pollution of various forms, having negative repercussions on the entire environment, society itself, the economy, and, of course, human health. After all, pollution also directly affects human beings.
Among the most serious environmental consequences arising from industrialization and the progressive consumption of these fuels is the contamination of the air through gases and particulate matter, coming from the burning of fuels, generating several local impacts, which directly affect our health
Other gases also cause impacts in different regions where their emission occurs, such as, for example: acid rain.
Climate change and fossil fuels
Global warming also has a giant contribution to make, coming from these fuels. Besides, this is a very complex environmental problem that is difficult to fight against.
After all, it has been centuries of mostly unbridled pollution, along with the use of these substances that have proven to be very harmful throughout history.
These gases guarantee the entry of sunlight, while preventing part of the heat generated by irradiation from returning to space and not staying on our planet.
Thus, global warming must be combated. This is because, if it continues, it will generate catastrophic effects at different levels.
In this way, it will cause a series of problems, such as the large-scale extinction of wild species, which in itself will destructure all ecosystems, generating significant changes in practically all systems, such as:
- Changes in climate zones;
- Sea level rising;
- Oceans acidification;
- Severe economic losses;
- Changes in the planet’s energy dynamics and the cycle of carbon and other chemical elements;
- Sharp decline in food production
- Changes in rainfall patterns;
- Increased hunger, disease and poverty;
- Increased risk of conflicts between nations over energy sources;
- Among dozens of other impacts.
Renewable Sources: A Farewell to Fossil Fuels
As we saw above, although fossil fuels are very important and useful for the formation and maintenance of society, they have become dangerous. This is because human beings have “stepped on the accelerator” and used them much more than they should have.
However, since we cannot change the past, it is necessary to think about the present and the future. Fortunately, this has already been done for some years, where renewable and non-polluting ways of generating energy are being sought.
On this path, technologies such as wind energy capture and photovoltaic energy capture, from the capture of the sun’s rays, have emerged. There are also others, but these are the ones that are most widely applied and are well on their way.
After all, to generate energy from them, the damages are quite low. Where basically they end up polluting during their installation and in the creation of their systems.
However, these damages are practically insignificant, when compared to the generator by fossil fuel.
Gasoline vs. Electricity
Another crucial point is connected with combustion vehicles that rely on fossil fuel sources, most often gasoline and diesel.
Considering that there are millions of cars circulating in the whole planet, this global effect is quite harmful. Aiming to reach a decarbonized economy, more and more electric-powered vehicles are in development.
There’s no direct pollution in electric cars usage. As there is no fuel burning, but a battery that provides energy for the engine. Unfortunately the electric vehicles price is still relatively expensive in the U.S.
Although it is an effective technology, electric cars are still findin challenges to reach the general public, which might change with government incentives and more competition along the next years.
Although EVs sales increase every year and top brands investments keep growhing. In this way, in a short time these vehicles should become the majority.
In this Hourglass article we have looked at fossil fuels. We have shown how they are formed, their importance, danger and perspectives for the future.
Thus, we conclude that although these fuels types are very important, their days are numbered. Either by the near exhaustion, unbridled use, or even by the risks to the environment.
Besides this, less dangerous ways to generate energy for society are being sought.
Thus, we conclude that these fuels were a necessary evil that helped society to evolve. However, it is necessary to look for ways to protect the planet and the environment.
In this way, it is necessary to invest more and more in clean energy. Helping in the development of new sources and guaranteeing more health for our planet.