Fossil Fuels: Coal and Petroleum, Formation, Uses & Conservation

What are Fossil Fuels?

The fuels formed from the dead remains of living organisms (fossils) are known as fossil fuels. Fossil fuels fall in the category of exhaustible resources. Coal and petroleum are great examples of nonrenewable resources as they take millions of years to form and present in a finite amount in nature. Fossil fuels originated from the fossilized, dead remains of animals and plants that once lived around a million years ago. Also, the carbon content is very high in fossil fuels because of their origins.

Examples of fossil fuels are oil, coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

Fossil Fuels: Coal

Coal is an example of fossil fuel that is formed from the dead remains of plants.

About 300 million years ago, the earth had dense forests like flooding, these forests got buried under the soil. As more soil deposited over them they were compressed. The temperature also rose as they sank deeper and deeper. Under high pressure and high temperature, dead plants got slowly converted to coal.

As coal contains mainly carbon, the slow process of conversion of dead vegetation into coal is called “carbonization”. Coal is as hard as stone and is black in color.


Let’s learn about the 4 different types of coal:
1. Lignite
2. Sub-bituminous
3. Bituminous
4. Anthracite

Destructive Distillation of coal: When coal is burnt in a limited supply of air or oxygen then many useful products are obtained such as Coke, Coal tar, and Coal gas.

Coke: The black residue obtained from the destructive distillation of coal is coke. Coke is a porous black solid substance. It is an almost pure form of carbon. It is used in the manufacture of steel and in the extraction of many metals.

Coal Tar: Coal tar is a black thick liquid with an unpleasant smell. It is a mixture of about 200 substances.

Uses of Coal Tar: Coal tar is used in various industries such as synthetic dyes

1. In manufacturing drugs
2. In manufacturing explosives
3. Manufacturing plastics
4. In manufacturing paints
5. In manufacturing photographic materials
6. In manufacturing roofing material
7. In manufacturing naphthalene ball

Coal Gas: Coal gas obtained during the processing of coal to get coke is used as a fuel in many industries.

Uses of Coal
1. To cook food.
2. In railway engines to produce steam to run the engine.
3. In thermal power plants to produce electricity.
4. As a fuel in various industries.
5. When coal is burnt as fuel it produces carbon dioxide gas and heat.

Fossil Fuels: Petroleum

We all know that Petrol is used as a fuel in light automobiles. Heavy motor vehicles like trucks and tractors run on diesel. Petrol & diesel are obtained from a natural resource called petroleum.


How petroleum is formed?

Petroleum is formed from organisms living in the sea. As these died, their bodies settled at the bottom of the sea and got covered with layers of sand and clay. Over millions of years, the absence of air, high temperature, and high pressure transformed the dead organisms into petroleum and natural gas. Petroleum is a dark oily liquid and has an unpleasant smell.

Petroleum is a mixture of many substances such as:
1. Petroleum gas
2. Petrol
3. Kerosene oil
4. Diesel
5. Lubricating oil
6. Paraffin wax

These components are separated through fractional distillation. The process is carried out in petroleum refineries where various components are separated on their boiling point. When petroleum is healed petroleum gases are separated at the top which is condensed and filed in the cylinders as liquid and we use them in the kitchen as L.P.G (Liquefied Petroleum Gas).

Uses of Petrol:
1. Petrol is used in motor, airplane, etc. as fuel.
2. Petrol is also used for dry cleaning.
3. kerosene is used in stoves, lamps, and jet aircraft.
4. Diesel, which is used as fuel for motor vehicles, electric generators.
5. Lubricating oil is used in machines for lubrication.
6. Paraffin wax which is used for ointments, candles, vaseline, etc.
7. Bitumen is used for paints and road surfacing.

Fossil Fuels: Natural Gas 

Natural Gas is a very important fossil fuel because it is easy to transport through pipes. Natural gas is stored under high pressure as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).

Uses of Natural Gas:

1. CNG is used for power generation.
2. It is now being used as a fuel for transport vehicles because it is less polluting. It is a cleaner fuel.
3. The great advantage of CNG is that it can be used directly for burning in homes and factories where it can be supplied through pipes.

Such a network of pipelines exists in Vadodara (Gujarat), some parts of Delhi, and other places. Natural gas is also used as a starting material for the manufacture of a number of chemicals and fertilizers. India has vast reserves of natural gas. In our country, natural gas has been found in Tripura, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and the Krishna-Godavari delta.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels:

Advantages and Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels:

Management of Natural Resources: Coal and Petroleum

Since ancient times coal has been used as a source of energy for different purposes.

Petroleum is another fossil fuel whose products like petrol, diesel, LPG, kerosene oil are used as fuel but, we know all these are the fossil fuel which took millions of years to form the degradation of biomass.

These are the resources that will be exhausted in the future. The study says that at the present rate of use, our known petroleum resources will last for about 40 years and the coal resources will last for another 200 years. When these are burnt, the products are carbon dioxide, water, oxides of nitrogen, and oxides of sulfur. Moreover, since coal and petroleum have been formed from biomass, in addition to carbon, these contain hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur.

When combustion takes place in the air, then instead of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide is formed. All these are poisonous gases and carbon dioxide is leading to intense global warming. Thus, we need to manage coal and petroleum resources intelligently and judicially.

Methods of Conservation of Fossil Fuel

Over- Consumption of oil in automobiles should be checked. We must save oil for future use because only a few years are left for its depletion. Following are the steps that can be taken in order to conserve fossil fuels: Use a bus instead of your personal vehicle or use a cycle or walk.

1. Use of alternate sources of energy- such as hydroelectric, nuclear, solar, wind power, biogas plants, should be encouraged.
2. Both oil well and coal mines are prone to catch fires, so they should be well protected.
3. Techniques should be developed to recover maximum fossil fuel that lies in deep mines and wells.
4. Wastage during extraction and transportation should be avoided.
5. Increase the efficiency of machines.

Conservation of Natural Resources

Conservation strategies are not new in our country. We often ignore that in India, forests are also home to some of the traditional communities. In some areas of India, local communities are struggling to conserve these habitats along with government officials, recognizing that only this will secure their own long-term livelihood.

In Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, villagers have fought against mining by citing the Wildlife Protection Act. In many areas, villagers themselves are protecting habitats and explicitly rejecting government involvement.

The inhabitants of five villages in the Alwar district of Rajasthan have declared 1,200 hectares of forest as the Bhairodev Dakav ‘Sonchuri’, declaring their own set of rules and regulations which do not allow hunting and are protecting the wildlife against any outside encroachments.

The famous Chipko movement in the Himalayas has not only successfully resisted deforestation in several areas but has also shown that community afforestation with indigenous species can be enormously successful.

Attempts to revive the traditional conservation methods or developing new methods of ecological farming are now widespread.

Farmers and citizen groups like the Beej Bachao Andolan in Tehri and Navdanya have shown that adequate levels of diversified crop production without the use of synthetic chemicals are possible and economically viable.

In India, the joint forest management (JFM) program furnishes a good example for involving local communities in the management and restoration of degraded forests.

The program has been in formal existence since 1988 when the state of Orissa passed the first resolution for joint forest management. JFM depends on the formation of local (village) institutions that undertake protection activities mostly on degraded forest land managed by the forest department. In return, the members of these communities are entitled to intermediary benefits like non-timber forest produces and share in the timber harvested by ‘successful protection’. 

The clear lesson from the dynamics of both environmental destruction and reconstruction in India is that local communities everywhere have to be involved in some kind of natural resource management. But there is still a long way to go before local communities are at the center stage in decision-making.

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