Coal, oil and natural gas are fossil fuels. They have been in existence for millions of years. Many people use these fuels as an energy source. However, fossil fuels are non-renewable; if resources are depleted, they will never be available again. It is therefore important to conserve fossil fuels, using alternative sources of energy when possible.
What Are Fossil Fuels?
Fossil fuels are so named because they formed from the remains of living things. The term usually refers to coal, natural gas and oil. People use these fuels as an energy source for heating their homes, for cooking and for creating electricity.
History of Fossil Fuels
People have been using fossil fuels for 3,000 to 5,000 years. The earliest use of coal dates back to China, about 3,000 years ago. Chinese people believed coal was a magical stone and used it to smelt copper. The use of oil dates back to ancient Egypt. Egyptians used it for medicinal purposes such as healing wounds. Native Americans also used it for this purpose as well as to waterproof their canoes. Natural gas was the basis of fire worship in ancient Iran. It has also been used as a source of heat for thousands of years.
Fossil Fuels in Modern Times
In modern times, fossil fuels are used for a variety of purposes in addition to heating and light. In the 1800s, coal stoves were common. These stoves worked somewhat like fireplaces. People filled the stove with coal and lit the coal to generate heat. Coal is not a popular heating source today, but is used to generate electricity. Coal is also used in the production of glass, cement, pottery and steel, as well as in medicines such as aspirin. Oil has a wide variety of uses. In addition to being a viable heating and lighting source, it is used in the production of gasoline, which powers motor vehicle engines. It also is used in the synthesis of plastics and in aspirin. Natural gas is used both residentially and commercially. Homes all over the U.S. use natural gas for cooking, heating and lighting purposes. It is also used to generate electricity.
How Fossil Fuels Are Made
Fossil fuels take millions of years to create. In the distant past, dead trees and other plants sank to the bottom of the ocean, forming a layer of material known as peat. Over time, rocks and sand overlaid this material. The weight of the rocks and sand put pressure on the peat, squeezing moisture out of it. Fossil fuels formed out of this process.
Fossil Fuels are Nonrenewable
Since fossil fuels take millions of years to create, they are nonrenewable. Once the resources are depleted, people will not be able to obtain any more coal, gas or oil. These fuels are needed for a variety of items that make our lives easier or prolong our lives. For this reason, it is important to conserve fossil fuels by using them as sparingly as possible and finding alternative sources of energy to perform some of the functions that we currently rely upon fossil fuels to perform.
- Close-up of coal image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com