Fossil fuel

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Image:DSCN4524 ashtabulacoalcars e2.jpg Fossil fuels, also known as mineral fuels, are hydrocarbon-containing natural resources such as coal, petroleum and natural gas. The utilization of fossil fuels has fueled industrial development and largely supplanted water driven mills, as well as the burning of wood or peat for heat.

When generating electricity, energy from the combustion of fossil fuels is often used to power a turbine. Older generators often used steam generated by the burning of the fuel to turn the turbine, but in newer power plants the gases produced by burning of the fuel turn a gas turbine directly.

The burning of fossil fuels by humans is the major source of emissions of carbon dioxide which is one of the greenhouse gases that is believed to contribute to global warming. A small amount of hydrocarbon-based fuels are biofuels which are derived from atmospheric carbon dioxide and thus do not increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. With global modernization, the global thirst for energy from fossil fuels, especially gasoline derived from oil, is one of the root causes and motivation of major regional and global conflicts. A global movement toward the generation of renewable energy is therefore underway to help meet the increased global energy needs.

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Origin

There are two theories on the origin of "fossil" fuels: the mainstream biogenic theory and the abiogenic theory. The two theories have been intensely debated since the 1860s, shortly after the discovery of widespread petroleum. According to the biogenic theory, fossil fuels are the altered remnants of ancient plant and animal life deposited in sedimentary rocks. The organic molecules associated with these organisms forms a group of chemicals known as kerogens which are then transformed into hydrocarbons by the process of catagenesis. The term Fossil fuel is thus the result of this theory. According to the abiogenic theory, hydrocarbon deposits are primordial, being part of the Earth as it formed.

The abiogenic theory was favored early because in the late 19th century it was believed that the Earth was extremely hot (possibly molten rock) during its formation. This would have precluded the accretion of hydrocarbons, which would have been oxidized into water and carbon dioxide. When it was later discovered that all fossil fuels contain traces of biological debris, the biogenic theory gained further support, especially in light of the unlikelihood that life (even microbial life) could exist at the depths at which petroleum had been found.

While research in the abiogenic theory is in progress, it is abundantly clear from palynology (the study of fossil pollen grains) that the world's major oil supplies have an organic origin, and are therefore likely to be more limited in availability than might be possible under the abiogenic theory. For details on the subject see the article Abiogenic petroleum origin.

A limited resource

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Oil is believed to be a finite resource. Even if abiogenic oil were possibly the source, the theory is not of practical use unless significant deposits are discovered. Significant usage of renewable energy sources such as hydroelectricity and nonrenewable nuclear power and scientific advances have reduced the dependency on fossil fuels, of which household usage has increased nonetheless. Petroleum is also important because it is a source of petrochemicals, for which there are a vast variety of uses.

The principle of supply and demand suggests that as hydrocarbon supplies diminish, prices will rise. Therefore higher prices will lead to increased alternative, renewable energy supplies as previously uneconomic sources become sufficiently economical to exploit. Artificial gasolines and other renewable energy sources currently require more expensive production and processing technologies than conventional petroleum reserves, but may then become economically viable. See future energy development.

See also

External links

University of Texas academic site that mentions that pollen grains - which come from trees - are used to help locate new oil deposits. This proves a biological origin.

Another link that describes stratigraphic palynology. If oil exploration uses pollen grains to locate new oil sources, then clearly oil is from organic origins.ca:Combustible fòssil cs:Fosilní palivo cy:Tanwydd ffosil da:Fossilt brændstof de:Fossile Energie es:Combustible fósil fr:Énergie fossile id:Bahan bakar fosil it:Combustibili fossili nl:Fossiele brandstof ja:化石燃料 pl:Paliwa kopalne pt:Combustível fóssil sl:Fosilno gorivo sv:Fossila bränslen

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