There are three major forms of fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas. All three were formed many hundreds of millions of years ago before the time of the dinosaurs - hence the name fossil fuels. The age they were formed is called the Carboniferous Period. It was part of the Paleozoic Era. "Carboniferous" gets its name from carbon, the basic element in coal and other fossil fuels.
What are the different types on fossil fuels?
The three main types of fossil fuel is coal, natural gas, and petroleum. Coal is created by the decomposed plants. Natural gas is formed by marine microorganisms. Petroleum, also known as crude oil, is used for generating electricity and for manufacturing. Petroleum is formed from the remains of biodegraded organic marine microorganisms. When the microorganisms compressed they became oil.
How is coal formed?
Coal is a hard, black colored rock-like substance. It is made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and varying amounts of sulphur. There are three main types of coal - anthracite, bituminous and lignite. Anthracite coal is the hardest and has more carbon, which gives it a higher energy content. Lignite is the softest and is low in carbon but high in hydrogen and oxygen content. Bituminous is in between. Today, the precursor to coal - peat - is still found in many countries and is also used as an energy source.
Describe the different stages of coal formation?
The story of how coal is created is very similar to that for oil. However, it does vary in several key respects. In the case of coal, the original organic material that is buried in the ground is plant material. Most of the coal that is found in the world today originates from the Carboniferous Period over 300 million years ago (In the U.S., the Carboniferous is broken up into the Pennsylvanian, in which the coal originates, and the Mississippian, in which limestone was deposited). During this period, there were many low-lying swamps that had large numbers of tree ferns and leafy trees. When these trees died, they fell into the swamp and were fairly quickly covered with sediments. Because of the low oxygen levels in the water in the swamps, this plant material did not decay much and was preserved for later conversion.
Another way in which coal differs from oil in creation has to do with the process of conversion. Since the coal started out as wood, it was always a possible fuel source. Even the lowest grade of coal can be burned to produce heat, unlike the microscopic organism that comprised oil. The more conversion that the coal undergoes, the better the grade of coal and the more energy per pound that it can deliver. The process of conversion is similar to oil in that it requires the high temperatures and pressures that are achieved by burial deposition. As the coal gets buried deeper in the earth, water is squeezed from the wood, leaving behind material that is higher in carbon content.
The different amounts of conversion result in different types of coal. There are four main categories of coal: anthracite, bituminous, subbituminous, and lignite. These different varieties are rated upon the percentage of carbon in the coal and on their heating value (amount of energy released when burned), which are related to the heat and pressure that the coal underwent in being formed.
How is coal used as a fossil fuel?
Coal does get used for other purposes, although some of these uses get mixed with generating electricity. About 6% of the coal used in the U.S. goes toward other industrial uses, which can include those that create electricity for use on site or for combined heat-power generation. Another .5% is designated as residential/commercial use, which is mostly used for heat, but can be used for generating electricity at universities and hospitals. The remaining 3% of the coal consumed in the U.S. goes toward making coke, which is used in the refining of metal ores.
Top Coal-Producing States (2001)
(Thousand Short Tons)
West Virginia 162,416
How is oil formed?
Begins with plants using solar energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and carbohydrates through a process known as photosynthesis. When the plants die, the sediments containing them become buried and, as the depth of burial increases, heat and pressure transform the carbohydrates into hydrocarbons. This takes place in source rocks, usually very fine-grained rocks known as black shale's. Coal is a solid hydrocarbon derived from land plants. Oil is a liquid hydrocarbon derived primarily from simple marine plants and animals, and natural gas is a gaseous hydrocarbon derived from either terrestrial or marine materials at a higher temperature and pressure than coal or oil. The other way oil is made: speculates that hydrocarbons were trapped inside the earth as it formed and are migrating to the surface.
How is oil used as a fossil fuel?
When we think of crude oil, gasoline naturally pops right into out heads. For most people, the two are inseparable. There is good reason for this connection in the U.S.: we use 45% of our crude oil to produce gasoline for use in our automobiles. This is necessary for the ever-burgeoning number of cars on the roads and miles that they drive. There were over 235 million registered vehicles in the U.S. in 2001, which were driven, on average, almost 12,000 miles each year. 4 Of this number, 137 million consisted of passenger vehicles that got an average of 22 miles per gallon. The most striking feature, though, was that this number includes 84 million light duty trucks (includes SUV’s), which got an average of 17.6 miles per gallon. This represents a tremendous increase in fuel inefficient vehicles, as there were only 48 million light duty trucks on the road in 1990. Gasoline is not the only product that comes from crude oil, as Figure 2 shows. A little over one-fifth of the oil that we use goes toward making fuel oil that is used in industrial processes and to heat homes in the winter. Jet aircraft fly over 5 billion miles in the U.S. each year, which accounts for almost 10% of the crude oil used. The remaining 25% of the crude oil goes to a number of uses such as asphalt for roads, coke for use in the metals industry, propane for use in cooking and heating, and waxes and lubricants for industrial processes. About 3% of the oil finds its way into petrochemical feed stocks, which are used to create plastics for many of the things that you find around you everyday. It is important that we keep these other uses in mind when we discuss the oil industry. Even if we find alternative methods for transportation and heating, our modern way of life still depends upon oil for many other uses.
How is natural gas formed?
In the world of fossil fuels, natural gas is often the overlooked ugly duckling. It gets lumped in with oil, as in “oil and gas industry”, even though the discussion usually centers upon oil. It does not help that gasoline, which is derived from oil, is shortened to “gas”. In many people’s mind, the “gas” in “oil and gas” refers to gasoline, and not natural gas. Natural gas is composed primarily of methane (CH 4 ). It does contain other chemical species, such as butane and propane. If the mixture is comprised only of these species, it is called dry natural gas, as there will be no liquid components at standard pressure and temperature. There might also be some other organic components, such as pentanes, that are mixed in with these species. These heavier species are normally liquid at standard temperature and pressure, and comprise what is called natural gas liquids. Natural gas might also be mixed in with non-hydrocarbon compounds, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. If so, it forms what is called wet natural gas, and requires some processing before it can be used. Natural gas comes from the decomposition of organic matter, just like oil and coal. Unlike oil and coal, though, it can come from almost any organic matter, whereas coal comes only from plant matter and oil comes almost exclusively from plankton and micro plankton remains. Natural gas can come from both of these sources as well. This is why you often find it associated with both oil wells and coalmines.
How is natural gas used as a fossil fuel?
Over the last century, the use of natural gas has become more diversified. In 2002, 22.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were used in the U.S. Table 1 shows a list of the different uses of this amount of natural gas. As you can see, natural gas has come a long way from being used primarily to provide lighting. The greatest use today is in the industrial sector as an energy source and as a chemical feedstock for such things as fertilizer. The second greatest use is for generating electricity. This is a growing sector, as the creation of new turbine generators that burn the gas in an engine and then use the exhaust to boil water results in power plant efficiencies of 50-60%. Most of the remaining natural gas is used for heating, hot water, and cooking in homes and companies.
Electricity Generation 25.0
Lease and plant 4.6
What are refineries and how are they important to production of fossil fuels?
Oil is stored in large tanks until it is sent to various places to be used. At oil refineries, crude oil is split into various types of products by heating the thick black oil. Oil is made into many different products - fertilizers for farms, the clothes you wear, the toothbrush you use, the plastic bottle that holds your milk, the plastic pen that you write with. They all came from oil. There are thousands of other products that come from oil. Almost all plastic comes originally from oil. The products include gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation or jet fuel, home heating oil, oil for ships and oil to burn in power plants to make electricity.
Exxon Valdzen Oil Spill
The Exxon Valdzen spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the Mississippi river. In 1989, the Exxon Valdzen leaked 500 gallons of crude oil per second. Environmental control used floating orange balloons filled with air to keep the oil back from land. This worked, due to the fact that oil is less dense than water. So it floated. But these balloons didn’t work for long. The oil soon destroyed eco systems. The old oil that was left behind on beaches were hardened up and turned pudgy. The waters of the Mississippi River was very acidic during this time, due to the oil. Over 1,000 boating vessels were brought to clean the mess up.
Deep water horizon oil catastrophe
On April 20, 2010, an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig leased by the oil company BP, set off a blaze that killed 11 crew members. Two days later, it sank about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast and crude oil began gushing out of a broken pipe. Attempts to shut down the flow, at first estimated at about 1,000 barrels per day, failed when a safety device called a blowout preventer could not be activated. On April 28, government officials said there were three leaks and the well was spilling over 5,000 barrels of oil per day — over 200,000 gallons — nearly a mile below sea level. On May 17, BP officials said they had succeeded in inserting a mile-long, 4-inch wide tube into the 21-inch-wide burst pipe, siphoning off a little more than 1,000 barrels a day.