The phrase “fossil fuels” comes from fuels that are extracted from fossils such as coal, petroleum and natural gas. There are a few other subcategories that fall under this. All the carbon rich substances that are used as sources of energy can be called fossil fuels. Fossil fuels were formed from the dead and decaying remains of prehistoric living organisms millions of years ago. Intense heat and pressure inside the different layers of earth transformed these dead remains into modern day's fossil fuel reserves. The fossil fuels are energy rich carbon compounds and hycrocarbons such as coal, natural gas and petroleum. The technological advances in the 20th century made possible the extraction of fossil fuels from the earth commercially viable. All our modern transportation and industry development process have been made possible because of the discovery and extraction of fossil fuels. More than three quarters of the world's energy consumption comes from fossil fuels. Of this approximately, 40% of fossil fuels are used in petroleum form, 15 % in natural gas form and 8 % in coal form. Fossil fuels are the main backbone of the industrialization but they have contributed to the burden of environmental pollution significantly. This has resulted in greehouse gases, acid rain and global climate change. The massive demand for fossil fuels has resulted in depletion of their deposits at an alarming rate. This depletion has made us focus on looking for alternative sources of energy in this century.
The dead and decaying plants started undergoing chemical changes. The first stage of transformation gave rise to a form of coal called peat. Ever since caveman found the use of this peat, they started burning it to generate heat for warming themselves. Asphalt, which happens to be a derivative of petroleum, was used by the Egyptians for the purpose of preserving the remains of the deceased. But commercially the fossils fuels were first used in the 1740s in Virginia. Coal, on the other hand was first discovered in 1701 in Virginia. Coal was one of the prime reasons for the start of the industrial revolution in 1760s. All the power plants were fed by the energy produced from burning coal. Finally natural gas gained importance commercially in the 1785 in Britain. William A. Hart in the year 1825 made a deep well of 27 foot in Fredonia, New York to ensure a steady flow of natural gas. After almost 100 years a more efficient distribution system for natural gases came into existence. At that time there was no good storage system developed. As a result of this most of the natural gases that were obtained got lost. Even petroleum came into limelight in the year 1859 when Edwin L. Drake at Pennsylvania drilled a well of 69 foot and discovered crude oil. From this crude oil kerosene was manufactured, lubricating the machineries and illuminating the lamps. Before this time asphalt and tar were used. Petroleum became very important when the DeSoto expedition survivors used it to make their ships water tight.
Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources of energy. The present fossil fuel reserves are limited. Fossil fuels, as the name implies came from fossilized remains of plants and animals that have died millions of years ago and underwent both chemical and physical changes to finally result in the energy rich compounds, that we use to meet most of our energy needs.
We are highly dependent on fossil fuels for our energy requirement and modes of transportation.
One of the main advantages of fossil fuels is that they can produce great amount of energy in just a single location. When a coal mine or an oil well is detected, a generation plant can be set up in that region due to the existing infrastructure facilities. Since the supply of coal or petroleum in a selected region or in any potential region is abundant, naturally it proves to be very cost effective. For natural gases or crude oil, the transportation is very simple. From the reserve site to the power station these fluid fossil fuels can be simply transferred bylaying pipes. Transportaion of fossil fuels is also very efficient with rail transport. The power plants that make use of fossil fuels are very efficient compared to other energy source power plants. Even the construction of power plants that are dependent on fossil fuels are easy to set up as it involves simple options of transporting the fossil fuel from the extraction site to the plant.
Fossil fuels help the world meet its energy requirements. But the use of these fuels has gone up and the side effects of using fossil fuels is manifesting all over the globe. By burning of fossil fuels, large amounts of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide produced as a result of fossil fuel burning is the prime cause of global warming and climate change. Coal burning not only produces carbon dioxide like any other fossil fuels, but also produces sulphur dioxide that is responsible for acid rain. Acid rain is mainly responsible for the gradual damaging of some of the famous monuments all over the world like Taj Mahal of India. The whole process of mining fossil fuels causes destruction of the soil and contamination of nearby waterbodies and destruction of both life and the ecosystems. For example, the tar sand mining in Alberta region of Canada has left the Athabasca river basin absolutely devastated and dead. Coal mining also poses threat to the lives of coal miners. The gaseous pollutants release obnoxious odors in and around the plant and damage the lungs. Residents living in and around the plant usually suffer from health problems like cough, nausea and headaches. Crude oil when transported from the region of formation to the plant site in barrels, often suffer from leaks. This causes a tremendous damage to aquatic lives in the sea, and the emissions resulting from crude oil burning are extremely polluting. Not to forget the major oil spills that happen in the ocean killing thousands of marine and bird life. In conclusion, though fossil fuels are a great boon to mankind they have to be used wisely and other alternative cleaner energies have to replace them as indiscriminate use of fossil fuels seems to be destroying our planet and it is time we do something positive to help ourselves and fuuture generations from the negative impact of fossil fuels.
Some countries are seriously thinking of replacing fossil fuels with other renewable energy resources just to take a step against environmental pollution. Initial investment of renewable energy plant set up is expensive. But that is not the only problem because even space can be a problem. Australia has estimated the replacement of fossil fuels with solar renewable energy completely. They found that this would involve an area as big as 4000 square kilometers. The panels occupying an area of 200 km square which is almost 4 times the average area of a roof are installed which actually meets the need of one person.Until further advancement in the photcells that are used to process the sunlight comes about, solar energy is still a long distance away to be used on a regular basis. For many such reasons a complete dependence on renewable energy is still not a viable option. The largest oil producer that is Saudi Arabia is not being able to reach its target production output and its most efficient oil producing oil wells are coming to an end. Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources of energy and its fast depletion and energy crisis have made the world think seriously. Not only its judicious use and preservation are important but it is of utmost importance that complete dependence on fossil fuels be reduced now. But the answer is not any one single source of renewable energy, like solar, or wind. Hybrid system designs should be encouraged combining two or more renewable energy sources or a combination of renewable energy sources and fossil fuels. Due to its fast depletion the prices of fossil fuels have soared up worldwide. As a result of this other dependent industries such as food transportation, air transportation are also forced to increase their prices which further percolates into eveything else thus increasing the cost of living. Judicious use of fossil fuels is of utmost importance. There are many industries that are directly and indirectly dependent on it. If we deplete fossil fuels ruthlessly then gradually all the other industries would also suffer a heavy setback which will affect us adversely in the long run.