Coal and fossil fuels

What are fossil fuels?

Since the chemical remains of prehistoric plants and animals are what make coal and oil, these are called fossil fuels and this is what you put in your gas tank when you fill up your car. Carbon is a great part of all living things on earth, even humans! There are 9 kilos of carbon in a 50 kg person. Plants are even more full of carbon, not quite 50% of a plant is carbon.

You are 18 percent carbon. Plants are 45 percent carbon.

If there is so much carbon everywhere why isn’t everything black and sooty? How can flowers be blue or tigers orange? This is because carbon is an element that combines easily with other elements to form different substances. These compounds of carbon are very different from pure carbon.

The smallest part of any element is called an atom. A carbon atom combines easily with two atoms of oxygen. The compound that is formed is carbon dioxide..

“C” is the symbol for carbon, “O” is the symbol for oxygen, so carbon dioxide is often called “C-O-2, and written “CO2” . CO2 is an invisible gas and it is really important for life.

Where do living things get carbon from?

During photosynthesis plants absorb CO2. They keep the carbon and give out the oxygen. People and animals breathe in the oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

The fact that animals and plants depend on each other works out fine. Plants and animals have lived and died for a very, very long time. Their remains are buried deep beneath the earth’s surface. Heat and pressure have transformed these remains into oil and natural gas.

Plants and animals when they died were buried under water and dirt for hundreds of millions of years. Heat and pressure turned the dead plants and animals into oil, coal, and natural gas.

What happens to all the remains of ancient dead plants and animals?

It turns into what we call fossil fuels: oil, coal, and natural gas. This is what we now are using  to produce energy in our modern world. We burn these carbon-rich materials in cars, trucks, planes, trains, power plants, heaters, speed boats, barbecues, and many other things that require energy.


What happens to the carbon from fossil fuels?

Heat is the main product and the reason why we burn fossil fuels, other by-products are water and CO2 there are some solid products too, like soot, ashes and grease.

All the ancient carbon stored in those prehistoric plants and animals ends up here in our modern atmosphere. Since people have been burning fossil fuels for about 200 years all that carbon that took hundreds of millions of years to getting stored up is being released now. This creates an imbalance in the chemistry of our atmosphere.

Is carbon in the air good, bad, or just ugly??

CO2 is a greenhouse gas.  A greenhouse gas is a gas that helps keep the Earth warm because it traps heat and allows Earth to keep some of the sun’s energy on earth without letting it go back out into space.

If the greenhouse effect did not exist Earth would be completely frozen. We would not be able to live here.

Without the greenhouse effect, Earth would be a ball of ice.

A greenhouse keeps pants warm by trapping the sun’s energy inside.

So, CO2 and other greenhouse gases have a positive effect on Earth—up to a point.  CO2 is very efficient and more of it is not always a good thing, when CO2  increases so does the temperature on Earth.

In all the history of the Earth every time the percentage of CO2  in the atmosphere increased, there was also an increase in the global temperature. What is even more important is another fact, the more the temperature on Earth increases so does the percentage of CO2 .

Studies are being done to calculate how much carbon plants absorb from the atmosphere and how carbon is distributed around the world.