Fossil fuels are carbon-based sources of energy used by human beings in their activities. These fuels are made through anaerobic decomposition of the remains of plants and animals. The process of decomposition takes millions of years before the fuels are formed (Menard 55–65). There are several types of fossil fuels including coal, petroleum, natural gas, bituminous sands, and oil shale.
Coal is one of the oldest fossil fuels discovered and used by man. It consists of a brownish-black solid, which composes of carbon and some other elements including hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. Man has been using coal for combustion purpose, for the production of electricity, and for industrial refining of metals. United States of America consumes about ninety percent of its coal for the generation of electricity, while China and India are also the world main consumers of electricity generated from coal (Hubbert 60–70). In this case, coal is heated into liquid and put under pressure to drive turbines. The turbines turn the generators which generate electric power. This is an extremely effective and efficient method of power generation, which constitutes more than forty eight percent of electricity used in United States of America, is made of coal. On the other hand, more than forty percent of the total world electric production depends on coal.
Another type of fossil fuel is petroleum, which is also known as clued oil. This is a combustible fuel, which consists of complex hydrocarbons found under the earth service. Alkenes, cycloalkanes, and aromatic hydrocarbons are the common hydrocarbons in fossil fuels. It also contains compounds such as nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur, while the metallic composition includes iron, nickel, copper, and vanadium, among others.
Petroleum is used for the production of fuel oil and petrol which are considered as the basic source of fuel in the world. Through refining, petroleum is converted into petrol, diesel, and jet, among other petroleum based fuels (Neil 22-24). Petroleum is one of the world heavy density sources of fuel as used by human in his economic and domestic purpose. It is one of the simplest transported sources of fuel through air, water, and land, while most importantly through the pipeline systems. Apart from been a source of energy, petroleum is a raw material in the production of other chemical products. These include fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, solvents, plastics and pesticides, among others.
Natural gas is a byproduct in the production of oil. It is naturally occurring hydrocarbon gases, mainly consisting of methane. In the process of producing the natural gas, all the other compounds including ethane, propane, butane and pentane, which are heavy byproducts of the process. Other byproducts include sulfur, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and nitrogen.
There are various uses of natural gas in modern times. These include power generation, domestic use, transport and aviation, among others. Natural gas is of late used for the generation of electric power. The burning gas turbine and the stream driven turbines are combined to produce electric power, which is incredibly efficient (Jaccard 8-12). As a source of power, combustion of natural gas releases about thirty percent less of carbon dioxide than petroleum and coal, as sources of energy. Natural gas forms the cleanest source of electric power with the combined turbines been economically viable means.
Domestically, natural gas is one of the main sources of cooking fuel. On the other hand, it is particularly useful in heating purposes. It is used in ovens, cloth dryers, furnaces, and water heaters, among others. In developed states and cities, natural gas is supplied into homes through pipe systems. In rural areas households and developing countries, natural gas is supplied by private entrepreneurs in containers.
Natural gas has developed into an alternative source of fuel, instead of petrol and diesel as used in automobiles. In the recent past, there is millions of natural gas driven vehicles in the world. The leading countries which have adopted this alternative include Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, and India, among others. Natural gas is an incredibly effective and efficient source of automotive fuel in that it is significantly environmental sensitive.
As the world strives to look for alternative aviation source of fuel, natural gas forms part of the discovered alternatives. This has been proved by a Russian airplane manufacturing company, since 1970s. Natural gas is used in combination with hydrogen to improve on efficiency (Edwards 1292–1305). This alternative reduces the emission of carbon dioxide to about sixty percent.
Lastly, natural gas is used in the process of production of several products. The most common include fertilizers and hydrogen. It is used for the production of ammonia, which is extremely essential raw material for the production of ammonium fertilizers (Conrad 21-33). In the process of hydrogen formation, natural gas plays a role, particularly for heating and compression process. The produced hydrogen is used as hydrogenating agent in the process of refining oil, as well as in hydrogen driven vehicles.
Other fossil fuels include bituminous sands and oil shale. They are not commonly known fossil fuels as they are extremely expensive to process. Canada is the world’s most producing and using countries in the world. Their capacity to produce in large quantities reduces the cost per unit output, which eventually turns the whole process to be economical.
No rational human being can think of fossil fuels, without considering their environmental effects. There are several negative impacts which have arisen from the continuous usage of fuels. First their combustion, particularly coal and petroleum, is the main cause of green house effect and global warming. Emitted gases, such as carbon dioxide sulfur and oxide of nitrogen alters the composition of the Ozone layer insulating the globe, and hence the chance of the earth to lose heat to the space, reduces. On the other hand, the oxides of nitrogen and sulfur are responsible for the formation of acid rain, which destroys iron made structures and plants (Edwards 1292–1305). Healthwise, the emitted gases are hazardous in that they cause respiratory problems, as well as lung and skin cancer.
Another environmental impact of fossil fuels is the issue of oil spills. In the process of transporting liquid fossil fuels such as oil, millions of gallons drain into land and water surfaces. In the land surfaces, the spills are responsible for destruction of vegetation and land used for purposes such as farming, among others. The spills in water are responsible for deaths of water animals and plants, as well as contamination of water for domestic and commercial usage. For example, in the recent past, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has devastating environmental effects, which are beyond man’s imagination and prediction of when the effects will face out.
In conclusion, it is clear that fossil fuels are immensely essential in human life for various reasons. It can be extremely hard for man to stop using these fuels on the bases of their effects, particularly on the environment. The reserves of these fuels are been devaluated every time. They take millions of years to form, while their consumption rate is exceedingly high and hence; in the future, they may be totally exhausted. It is recommended that, their usage can be slowed as much as possible. Alternative sources of fuel such as solar, wind and hydro energy can be exploited to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and their effects.