All About Fossil Fuels
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Every time you light up the gas cooker, take a ride in a car or bus, turn on a lightbulb, you are using energy. And of course, energy has to come from somewhere. Now, there are a lot of sources of energy, including the heat and light of the sun. But most of the energy we use today is chemical energy.
Now, you could even say that we live because of chemical energy as well. The food we eat is chemically broken down in our cells and the energy that is released is what we used to walk, jump, run, play and breathe. It’s not just us that rely on chemical energy though. Most of the things we enjoy today are a result of chemical energy.
More often than not, today’s energy is sourced from fossil fuels. You might have heard of fossils before. It’s something you would have seen while reading about all the interesting prehistoric animals. Archaeologists use fossils of ancient animals and plants to learn about what they might have looked or been like millions of years ago, when they were alive and humans didn’t even exist.
All about fossils
You’d probably know what fossils are. But how do they actually form? The thing is, dinosaurs and creatures from back then weren’t indestructible. Usually, when a person or animal dies, their body slowly decomposes (dee-com-poses). Meaning it slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller bits before it breaks apart completely.
Normally, you shouldn’t be able to see a bunch of dinosaur bones that are millions of years old. But this usually happens when the animals dies when exposed to air. Imagine yourself looking millions of years back in time, and a certain dinosaur dies in a swamp, or in a riverbed, or a mammoth frozen in the ice.
In both situations, the dinosaur or mammoth isn’t entirely exposed to the air, and undergoes a process where the body is preserved, or the patterns left by the bones are preserved. These are called fossils.
Then what are fossil fuels?
The name has some truth to it, but it doesn’t mean that we take dinosaur bones and burn them. But fossil fuels are formed from ancient plant and animal life. What happens is that animal and plant matter end up deposited over time in the ground, and with the moving of the Earth’s plates and extreme levels of pressure that comes as a result, the animal and plant matter undergo a change in their chemical nature, turning into oil and coal.
Coal is usually made up of plant matter that is piled up, while oil is found in between pockets of sedimentary rocks. Some of that oil creates fumes, which create natural gas, which is another fossil fuel. Oil is used to separate a number of fuels such as kerosene, petrol, diesel and even airplane fuel, using different processes. All these are called hydrocarbons (Hi-dro-carbons) because they are made out of mainly carbon and hydrogen. By burning them, these break into carbon dioxide and other gases, and extra energy is released, which we see as heat and light.
It’s not all that good
For the most part of history, people have burnt fossil fuels to get most of their energy, and that’s the same even today. But you might already know that although fossil fuels are really reliable, it’s not the best solution. Although there’s a lot of fossil fuel underground, it takes thousands and thousands of years to create more. With the way the world keep using fossil fuels, we are going to run out of them one day. Not only that, the gases released to the air as a result of burning them aren’t good for your lungs, or for the environment. But you must already know about these.
Looking to the future
Which is why the world is trying to stop using fossil fuels as much. But the problem is, we’re still trying to look for a source of energy that’s as reliable as fossil fuel. The whole world is racing to find the next new alternative source of energy, which many believe will change the way we live on Earth forever.
But let’s talk about that another time. Why not talk with your parents or siblings about what you learnt today and search for yourselves what these alternative sources of energy are. You’ll be surprised how many there are.