Fossil fuels – What are they, formation and uses

Fossil fuels are those that come from the natural decomposition of organic matter (such as plants, bacteria, algae and other microorganisms); They are for example oil , coal and natural gas .

What are fossil fuels?

They are a non – renewable energy source , due to the fact that they took around 600 million years to produce. Today they are used daily as a source of energy , in all industries and at all levels of consumption (household and industrial).

They are found on Earth (oil and/or gas fields, coal mines), after special conditions of heat and pressure, added to millions of years, 600 more specifically.

The organic matter produced millions of years ago, that is, that of plants and organisms that existed in ancient times, after special conditions, today are the elements that we know as fossil fuels; they are not considered biomass because they are not renewable.

Examples and destinations of fossil fuels

We know that there are 4 fossil fuels: oil , coal , natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas . Now, let’s know its purposes:

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  • PETROLEUM – In addition to fuel (energy source), it is the base of plastics , gums, rubbers , asphalt , ink and others; It is raw material by nature.
  • LIQUEFIED PETROLEUM GAS – As a fuel for the naval and automobile industries (to a lesser extent), and for industrial purposes if combined with other gases (such as methane).
  • COAL – As a source of heat and fuel; not only in modernity, but for hundreds of years.
  • NATURAL GAS – As a source of energy and fuel, both at a household level (household gas) and at an industrial level.

In all cases, they are always used due to their enormous energy potential , more specifically thermal/heat energy , and their relatively low cost; Currently, renewable energies are emerging and seek to reduce costs to be competitive with fossil fuels, which have two enormous disadvantages: they are finite and they pollute .

How were fossil fuels formed?

The origin of fossil fuels goes back millions of years . The crust of the Earth can be compared to a giant geological cauldron. All the remains of plants, animals and all sorts of living organisms accumulated at the bottom of rivers, seas, lakes, etc. Sediment layers slowly covered these components.

Various conditions, such as low oxygen levels and various chemical reactions , gave rise to hydrocarbons . Depending on the formation, these were transformed into gaseous, liquid or solid elements. The remains that later originated the fossil fuels come from the Carboniferous period of the Earth (more or less, about 350 million years ago). In this geological era, the forests that are now coal deposits were formed .

Types of fossil fuels and their characteristics

  • Petroleum: It is a compound of hydrogen and carbon that is in a liquid state and has an oily consistency. It is found in the subsoil, at about 600 and 5000 m. deep. Oil was formed from the remains of living plant, aquatic and animal organisms. These lived in the lagoons, seas or at the mouths of rivers. This resource has been used by humans since ancient times. The Egyptians used oil to preserve mummies and the Romans used it as fuel to give light. Oil and all its derivatives have an innumerable number of applications. Not only is it the main fuel, but it is also the raw material for many industries.
  • Coal:  It is a mineral that is obtained from the remains of plants and trees that were submerged in swamp waters. These suffered putrefaction due to the effect of water and bacteria. All this was buried in continuous layers of mud that, when subjected to special conditions of pressure, heat and low oxygen, are transformed into what is now known as coal. The importance of coal lies in its combustion capacity , in addition to being used for the manufacture of many other items. The impact this mineral had on transportation and industry by using it as fuel has been invaluable.

  • Natural gas : It is another hydrocarbon that has formed under the Earth, product of the sedimentation of organic matter. It is accompanied by oil and to obtain it it is necessary to extract it and then store it and distribute it through gas pipelines . This gas is colorless and odorless, although after extracting it a component is added that gives it a strong and unpleasant odor to determine if there is a gas leak.
  • Liquefied petroleum gas: Liquefied petroleum gas is more of a residual product of the petroleum refining process . It is made up of propane and butane gas and is obtained when natural gas is extracted. It is the one used for heating, in motor vehicles and in industrial processes.

What are fossil fuels for?

There are many applications that are given to fossil fuels. Each of them can be used in various industrial and domestic activities.

petroleum applications

Oil is refined and converted into different compounds, including gasoline , turbo fuel, diesel , kerosene, propane gas, benzine, fuel oil, asphalt, lubricant bases, aliphatic solvents, etc.

Some of the applications given to these compounds are:

  • Fuel for motor vehicles , trucks, buses, planes, etc.
  • It is used in domestic stoves .
  • Solvent Manufacturing .
  • Extraction of paints, oils, adhesives, glues, etc.
  • Production of agricultural products, waxes, rubber, bitumens, etc.
  • To produce asphalt or as a sealant in construction.
  • Raw material for lubricating oils.

coal applications

  • As a fuel to generate electrical energy .
  • Furnace fuel and main reducer in various processes.
  • As an iron enricher in the steel industry.
  • Domestic fuel .
  • It can be converted to a petroleum-like compound by direct liquefaction .

Natural gas applications

  • As a steam generator in the food industry.
  • in domestic kitchens.
  • In firing of ceramic products .
  • Casting of metals , heat treatments, quenching and annealing of the same.
  • Heating, air conditioning and electrical generation systems.
  • Vehicle fuel .

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