Fossil Fuels Introduction
Fossil fuels, formed from ancient organic matter, have been Earth's dominant energy source since the 1800s. They include coal, oil, and natural gas, originating from prehistoric plants and animals.
Ancient Sunlight Energy
Remarkably, fossil fuels are stored solar energy. Photosynthesis captured sunlight, which, over millions of years, transformed into energy-rich deposits, now powering our modern world.
Fossil fuels require extensive timescales; coal can take 300-360 million years to form, while oil and gas take a shorter 50-150 million years, under specific pressure and temperature conditions.
Extraction and Environment
Extraction methods like fracking have environmental consequences, including potential groundwater contamination and induced seismic activity, challenging the notion that fossil fuel extraction is safe and clean.
Energy Density Surprise
Fossil fuels possess high energy density; a single liter of gasoline contains about 34.2 megajoules of energy, equivalent to the energy 10 adults expend daily.
CO2 Emissions Variability
Not all fossil fuels emit the same carbon dioxide levels. Natural gas releases half as much CO2 as coal when burned, illustrating significant differences within fossil fuel categories.
Plastic's Fossil Origin
Beyond energy, fossil fuels are crucial for producing plastics. Ethylene, derived from oil and gas, is a building block for polyethylene, the most common plastic in the world.