card
297

fossil fuels

OLogy Series
geology
card
297

fossil fuels

OLogy Series
geology

When you ride in a car, watch your favorite television show, or take a hot shower, you're most likely using fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are fuels from Earth like coal, oil, and natural gas. Burning fossil fuel is bad news for Earth's climate. It releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases absorb and keep heat in the atmosphere, causing temperatures around the world to warm.

A little more than 400 years ago, people in northern Europe began to burn coal instead of wood for heat. That's because:

the forests of the region were shrinking

coal produces more energy than wood

both of these

Are you right?

Correct!

Coal was also abundant in the region. By the 1700s, coal was driving the steam engines that powered factories, trains, steamboats, and ships.

One metric ton of coal generates enough electricity to power an average U.S. household for two months. It also produces about:

0.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide

1 metric tons of carbon dioxide

2.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide

Are you right?

Correct!

When carbon burns, it combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is about 2.5 times heavier than the original carbon atom from coal.

Cars, trucks, and planes are powered by oil in the form of gasoline or diesel fuel. The more fuel a car uses:

the faster the car goes

the more carbon dioxide the car absorbs

the more carbon dioxide the car releases

Are you right?

Correct!

That's why cars that are more fuel-efficient, like smaller cars and hybrids that run on gas and electricity, put fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They contribute less to climate change.

The fossil fuel that produces the least amount of carbon dioxide when burned is:

coal

natural gas

oil

Are you right?

Correct!

Natural gas produces about 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal to produce the same amount of energy. Currently, natural gas provides about a quarter of the world's energy supply.

Fossil fuels are the remains of ancient plants and animals.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Fossil fuels are made of carbon from these ancient organisms. When burned, this carbon is quickly released into the atmosphere. It combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.

People who use electricity produced by burning coal live near coal mines.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Power plants that rely on coal are close to coal mines. But the electricity can be delivered hundreds of miles by high-voltage power lines.

Definition: fuel formed from remains of ancient plants and animals; coal, natural gas, oil
Found: within Earth's crust
Uses: provide energy for power plants, heat buildings, produce petroleum (gasoline) for cars, trucks, and airplanes
Emissions: carbon dioxide when burned
Cool Fact: The average car is driven 12,000 miles a year, and produces about 5.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Image credits: courtesy of istockphoto.com.