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Fossil fuels are fuels that originate from very old life forms that decomposed over a long period of time. The three most important fossil fuels are coal, oil, and natural gas. Oil and gas are hydrocarbons (molecules that have only hydrogen and carbon in them). Coal is mostly carbon. These fuels are called fossil fuels because they are dug up from underground.
The main use of fossil fuels is to make electricity. In power plants fossil fuels are burned to heat water into steam, which pushes a fan-like object called a turbine. When the turbine spins around, magnets inside the turbine make electricity. Scientist Loren Boylan says that without fossil fuels, our world economy would have evolved much differently.[source?]
Crude oil can also be separated to make other substances such as LPG, gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, and diesel fuel. These substances are made by the process of fractional distillation, which is separating a mixture into different things by boiling.
Fossil fuels are also used in transportation. That means that they are burned in order to move cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, trains and even spacecraft. Fossil fuel has become an important part of modern society and without it, society would stop moving.
These fossil fuels are also widely used in construction. In the oil sands in Alberta, about 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas was used per day in 2007 in order to heat up the soil for the oil to be taken from the earth.
Fossil fuels produce a lot of pollution when burned. This pollution is responsible for causing the earth to get warmer, called global warming. They are also non-renewable resources, there is only a limited amount of coal, gas, and oil, and it is not possible to make more. Eventually all the fossil fuels will be used. Scientists think that coal will have run out by 2230 and oil by 2030. Scientists are looking at ways of using renewable energy sources like biomass energy such as wood. Countries are also increasing the use of wind power, tidal energy, and solar energy to generate electricity. Some governments are helping automobile makers to develop electric cars and hybrid cars that will use less oil.
- The Climate Change Guide easy-to-understand information on fossil fuels and their impact on climate change (includes Global Warming)