Energy in the form of fossil fuels, can it meet all of society’s needs or is it time for us to look at other alternatives before it is too late? The increasing pollution and price of energy has once again ignited the debate about options for future energy.
Fossil fuels are hydrocarbon deposits also known as coal, crude oil and gas derived from the remains of organic prehistoric plants and animals. They have taken many millions of years to form.
Coal is ground to a fine dust when crushed and this is burnt in a combustion chamber of large boilers these heat water and create steam pressure that drives turbines and then generators to create electrical energy. Coal provides about 28% of our energy but burning coal generates sulphur dioxide (a gas that contributes to acid rain). Acid rain is responsible for the death of trees notably in Scandinavia and corrosion of stonework. This pollution issue can be mainly avoided by using a flue gas desulphuration. This eliminates sulphur dioxide gas before being released into the atmosphere using a “scrubber” system which sprays alkaline calcium hydroxide solution through power station emissions and converts the gas into gypsum (calcium sulphate). This is a useful product for the building trade being the main constituent of plaster. However this process does not prevent carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere which is the main gaseous product from combusting coal or any hydrocarbon fuel.
Crude oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons consisting mainly of alkanes. The simplest alkane is methane ( CH4) used as fuel in homes for cooking and heating. Hydrocarbons are compounds consisting only of hydrogen and carbon atoms. In crude oil’s raw form it is a thick tarry substance so it needs to be processed to separate it into useful constituents such as the fuels petrol, diesel and
kerosene and bitumen for road surfacing. It also provides the raw material ethane gas for the chemical industry manufacturing plastic polymers such as polythene and PVC. 70% of organic chemicals (carbon based chemicals) are produced from crude oil and 3000 million tonnes of it products are used worldwide each year. A process called fractional distillation is used to separate crude oil into smaller mixtures of similar sized hydrocarbons known as crude oil fractions. The process relies on the different fractions having different boiling points. The smaller the hydrocarbon molecule the lower its boiling point. There are five major fractions when crude oil is separated, refinery gas, gasoline/naphtha, kerosene, diesel oil and residue (bitumen). Some heavier or larger hydrocarbons produced by fractional distillation are broken down into smaller more useful hydrocarbons by a process known as cracking. This is to aid in the production of petrol and paraffin. It also produces extra alkenes required for making plastics. Cracking involves the breaking of carbon bonds in alkanes to form smaller molecules containing double carbon to carbon bonds necessary for polymerisation.
The use of fossil fuels comes with the advantages of being able to generate large quantities of electricity at a relatively low cost using coal oil or natural gas. Transporting the gas and oil to the power stations located on coastal areas is easy and fossil fuel power stations can be built almost anywhere so long as large quantities of fuel can reach the stations. The main drawbacks are that they release greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming and when burnt they give of large quantities of polluting sooty chemicals which can be build up into choking smogs as experienced in Beijing in January 2013. The UK government has committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions to help reduce global warming.
Fossil fuels are not renewable energy sources, once burnt they cannot be replaced. Easily accessible sources of crude oil are becoming rarer so the costs a extracting crude oil from more...
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