Fossil Fuels - a more detailed look
The most common fossil fuels are coal, oil, and natural gas. Peat, a very young form of coal, and oil shale are types of fossil fuel. These fuels were formed millions of years ago from plants and animals that died and decomposed beneath tons of soil and rock. These fossil fuels are not fossils like the bones of prehistoric creatures. Prehistoric fossils are hard and made of stone. Stone cannot burn. Fossil fuels contain the remains of dead plants and animals, not stone, and can burn.
The different fossil fuels formed in different ways. Peat is formed the partially decomposed remains of plants, which has grown in a swamp or marsh. Over a long period of time, peat will form coal. Coal was formed from plant debris. It is thought that 10 feet of plant material is needed to form 1 foot of coal. Natural gas and oil were formed from tiny organisms that settled to the bottom of ancient seas and rivers.
Oil and gas need special conditions to prevent them escaping to the surface. A 'trap' must exist to prevent the upward movement of the fluid. The main feature of the 'trap' is an impermeable cap-rock. This stops the oil and gas seeping to the surface.
Fossil fuels are vitally important in today's world. In Ireland, about 98% of our total energy requirements were supplied by fossil fuels. About 93% of all our electricity was generated by fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels can be used to produce more than just energy. Not only can oil be refined into fuels to power engines, it can also be processed into petrochemicals from which plastics, medicines, and paints can be made. The Petrochemical Industry is an industry that makes chemicals from petroleum, another name for oil. Many types of fertilisers that are used to grow our food are made from fossil fuels. Many types of plastic are made from fossil fuels and this plastic is used for many things, eg. glasses, mobile phones. You might be wearing glasses made of plastic. The mobile you should not be looking at is also made of plastic. The synthetic fibres that are used to make fabrics for our clothes are produced from fossil fuels. Photographic film for our cameras is also made from petroleum, as are many medicines.
- What are the differences between prehistoric fossils and fossil fuels?
- Explain how each of the fossil fuels is formed?
- Make a list of all the different ways in which fossil fuels are used that affect you in your daily life. You might use the following headings: Energy, Plastics, Paint, Clothes, Food.