Renewable Sources of Energy


solar panel in field

Renewable energy can be defined as energy that is replenished at a higher rate than it is used. Fossil fuels do not qualify as renewable energy sources under this definition because they are used more quickly than they are naturally replenished. Sunlight, wind, geothermal and hydropower energies, though, are renewable. Sunlight, wind, geothermal hydropower sources are virtually inexhaustible; we will never deplete the global supply. Furthermore, these four energies have fewer related greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuels.

Solar Energy Renewable

Sunlight is perhaps the most abundant source of energy available on Earth. Sunlight can be cheaply acquired and has extremely low emissions outputs. Capturing solar energy is accomplished with solar panels. When sunlight impinges on a solar panel, the photovoltaic silicon cells convert light energy into usable electricity. Solar panels’ energy generation process is itself 100% greenhouse gas emissions free. Manufacturing solar panels are however associated with some carbon dioxide emissions; according to a study in Nature, solar panels produce emissions as low as 20g CO2 equivalent per kilowatt-hour over their lifetime.

The main disadvantage to solar power: it’s not consistently available at all times, in all places. Sunlight energy varies depending on the time of day, season and year, and geographic location. On the other hand, if installed in the right place and stored properly, the electric energy from solar panels can provide energy to people living in remote areas, without the need for larger energy networks. Therefore, purchasing solar panels could save your household money on its monthly energy bill!

Wind Energy Renewable

Wind energy comes from turbines. The force created by the motion of air turns the turbine’s blades around a rotor, which spins a generator to create electricity. Simply put, the kinetic energy from the wind is collected by wind turbines, converted to electricity, and then stored for later use. The wind is an inexhaustible resource, it will never run out. Though, like sunlight, the wind is not equally available at all times and in all places. The ideal locations for wind turbine installation are windy areas, that have little wildlife, and are far away from populations of people, as wind turbines can be noisy.

Wind turbines are usually hundreds of feet tall and are often installed in groups, referred to as wind farms. Turbines work better in groups so that sufficient amounts of wind energy can be captured over a large distance. For the most part, greenhouse gas emissions from wind energy are quite low, especially relative to those of fossil fuel combustion. The emissions associated with wind energy are a result of manufacturing their parts and materials.



Hydropower Renewable

Hydropower facilities come in four different forms: impoundment, diversion, offshore (seawater), and pump and storage. In each case, the principal is the same, water is energy created by the movement of flowing water which pushes against the blades of a turbine to spin a turbine. Hydropower plants operate similarly to wind farms, in that they convert kinetic energy to electric energy.

Renewable Geothermal

Geothermal energy is heat continuously produced inside Earth. Most of this internal heat is brought on by the spontaneous process of unstable atomic nuclei transitioning into more stable versions of themselves; radioactive decay. The decay of radioactive elements results in a release of heat and happens perpetually in the Earth’s core, meaning that this energy can never be exhausted.

Earth’s internal energy heats up underground sources of water, which rises up to the surface as underwater hydrothermal vents geysers, steam vents and hot springs. This energy too, can be made to turn a turbine generator and generate electricity.

Renewable Biomass

Biomass is an organic source of energy, that is, it’s the material of or from living organisms. Common biomass materials include agriculture feedstocks, grasses, wood, algae, animal manure, and human sewage. Organic material is consistently available and can, in theory, be used indefinitely. The energy contained in biomass comes partly from the carbohydrates that photosynthetic plants have synthesized using sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. The carbohydrates from plants and animals can be transformed into usable energy when burned (direct combustion) or converted.

Biomass technically qualifies as renewable source of energy, but when burned, biomass emits carbon dioxide at rates comparable to fossil fuels for the same amount of generated energy. Unlike burning fossil fuel burning, which releases the carbon stored in underground for millions of years or more, the combustion of biomass releases carbon that’s been stored in living organisms, i.e plants, animals and organic wastes. The carbon dioxide from burned biomass is not moved back into the biosphere as quickly as it is expelled, meaning that biomass combustion is not a carbon neutral means of energy production.

renewable biomass wood chips and bamboo

RCP


The acronym RCP stands for ‘Representative Concentration Pathway’. RCPs are scenarios that describe how Earth’s climate could potentially change in the future up to the year 2100. Each scenario estimates alternative trajectories for future greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting atmospheric concentration of those gases. Once the concentrations from differing emissions scenarios are calculated, climate modelers can then estimate the effect this will have on near-surface air and water temperatures.

Radiative Forcing

The RCP scenarios’ names correspond with their radiative forcing target level for 2100. For example, in a scenario named “RCP 2.6”, the future radiative balance would be changed by 2.6 W/m2, causing Earth to warm to restore this balance. Radiative forcing is the effect that various components of the atmosphere (i.e greenhouse gases and air pollutants, solar irradiance) have on the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation. In other words, the radiative forcing estimates refer to changes in atmospheric heat caused by greenhouse gases and other forcing agents.

Future of Climate Change

There are numerous factors to account for when assessing future climate change. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is perhaps the most significant among these factors because the atmosphere’s temperature responds to the total concentration of greenhouse gases. Therefore, RCP projections assume that temperature is linearly related to the cumulative total of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

By calculating the changes in the atmosphere’s components, predictions can be made about the temperature changes that would result. Other factors that must be considered for reliable future climate change assessments include developments in adaptation technologies, changes in land use, future energy production, population growth, and economic growth.



Some scenarios are optimistic, in that they predict future emissions to be much lower than they are today. The worst-case scenarios, on the other hand, are pathways that have the highest estimated future greenhouse gas concentrations; and therefore the highest temperature predictions.

RCP 2.6 is an example of a more optimistic scenario. RCP 2.6 assumes that humanity implements a variety of technologies and strategies for curbing emissions while also making ambitious emissions reductions across sectors by 2100. RCP 2.6 refers to the concentration of greenhouse gases that cause global warming at an average of 2.6 W/m2 (watts per square meter). RCP 2.6 results in the least amount of global warming of all the RCPs.

RCP 8.5, the so-called “business as usual scenario”, has the highest global mean temperature increases of all pathway scenarios. RCP8.5 is a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario that is likely to be the outcome if humanity makes few or no concerted efforts to decrease emissions, resulting in a warming average of 8.5 watts per square meter globally. Projected changes in climate under RCP 8.5 will be more severe than under RCP 2.6.

There are four main RCPs that extend to the end of the century (2100). RCP 4.5 and RCP 6 are intermediate scenarios between 2.6 (lowest) and 8.5 (highest). The RCP estimates are far from exact, as there are far too many societal and climatological uncertainties to factor into assessments. In reality, future greenhouse gas emissions can fall anywhere on the spectrum between RCP 2.6 and RCP 8.5, or perhaps outside the boundaries of these projections entirely. Also, no one can be sure exactly how sensitive Earth’s climate might be to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcing agents.

Inherent uncertainties aside, these limited sets of scenarios allow for a common language and way of thinking about future changes in climate for policymakers and climate modeling teams.


Volta


Volta Inc is a San Francisco-based electric vehicle (EV) charging and media company. All of Volta’s charging stations are connected to 55-inch plasma video screens that are live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Instead of monetizing the electricity for EV charging, Volta generates ad revenue from its video screens. This means that Volta provides charging to EV and HPEV (hybrid plug-in electric vehicle) drivers completely for free. No membership costs or credit cards are necessary. Just park and plug in.

white Tesla charging at Volta station
Tesla using Volta charging port

Volta Inc was founded in Hawaii in 2010 by Scott Mercer and Chris Wendel. By 2021, Volta had more than 2,000 charging stations available in 23 states. Since then, their network of chargers has continued to expand, with growing a number of installations in states like Texas, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Florida, Washington and Utah.

Volta 2 Hour Limit

At most, drivers are allowed 2 hours of free parking time while charging. Some stations limit charging time to as little as 30 minutes. Volta’s level 2 charging stations use the J1772 connectors, which are the most popular public charger type. Volta chargers are conveniently located near places where people already spend time, like the parking lots of grocery stores, restaurants, fitness centers, and other shopping hotspots.

Volta EV Charging Speed

Charging time depends on how large your car’s battery is, which type of EV charger you use, how much power the charger can deliver per minute, and how much power your vehicle is able to accept. On average, the DC fast chargers have a charging speed of 50-60 kWh, or up to 210 miles of range per hour depending on your EV, according to the official Volta Website. Level 2 charging is estimated to dispense 7-10 kWh or up to 35 miles of range per hour.

If you’re ever in search of a free charging station in your area, the Volta app will help you find and navigate to one of its plug-in ports. Within the app, users may also start or stop a charging session. Charging sessions are updated in real time so that drivers know which ports are available and which are being occupied. The app will ask for your vehicle type so that it can display the appropriate charger types.


Charging Stations Near Me


If you’re looking for an electric vehicle charging station in your area, I recommend trying the PlugShare application iOS and Android, it can also be used on the web. PlugShare has mapped and cataloged more than 200,000 chargers across the United States. While in the app, you can upload pictures, share reviews and leave equipment updates for known charging stations. PlugShare also allows users to see whether a charging port is occupied or available.

ChargePoint, Tesla, eVgo, AmpUp and Volta are some of the most widely used charging networks.

Chicago EV Charging Stations

There are a few clutch spots that offer free parking and free charging for electric and hybrid vehicles in Chicago. Each charging station is within 5 miles of the downtown area, or the Bean (201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602). At minimum drivers are allowed 30 minutes of free parking time while charging, at most, drivers are allowed 2 hours of parking time while charging.

Volta

The following charging stations all belong to Volta. The Volta network has free level 2 charging on offer in states like California, Hawaii, New York, and Chicago. Most chargers are available 7 days a week, 24 hours, even if the associated store is closed. Volta Charging stations are usually attached to highly visible, animated, plasma screens with blue lights atop their frames. If you know of an EV charging station fit for this list, please email the details to climatechangeisorg@gmail.com. Thank you in advance.

Volta Charger

The first charger is located in Jewels Osco’s parking lot, 1224 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605. This charger is on the northwest corner of the lot. Drivers are allowed a two hour charging time limit. The associated Jewels Osco closes before midnight. There are two J1772 connector types near the animated, plasma screens.


The second Volta charger can be found at 111 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60607. It’s within 4.2 miles of the Bean. The J1772 chargers are on the south side of the block closest to the Walgreen’s main entrance. Parking is allowed for 45 minutes of charging time.


Here’s a single Volta charger in a Walgreens parking lot in Chinatown, 316 W Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL, 60616. 6 miles from the Bean. This station has a 45-minute parking limit while charging.



501 W Roosevelt Rd Chicago, IL 60607, approximately 4 miles from the Bean, chargers are near the Walgreens entrance by Canal street. There are two J1772 chargers for use with parallel parking spaces between the animated, plasma screens. The Walgreens is open 24 hours a day.


The final Volta charger is located in Lakeview East, 3531 N Broadway, Chicago, IL, 60657. There are two J1772 chargers, one in outdoor parking lot on the same level as the associated Jewels Osco, the other on the inside of the parking garage. The entrance is on the south end of the Jewels Osco; the north ramp is for exiting. Both chargers are free with a two hour parking time limit while charging.


Plastic Pollution


Plastic Pollution in the Marine Environment” is a review article that describes the describes the role of plastic pollution in marine environments. Authors G.G.N. Thushari and J.D.M. Senevirathna believe that “the ecological and socio-economic impacts of plastic pollution are interconnected”. Marine organisms can ingest, become entangled in, or otherwise be impaired by plastic pollutants. This can negatively impact tourism, fisheries, human health, and services gained by people.

Some suspension feeders and benthic organisms likely mistake microplastic particles for food because the plastic particles are roughly the same size as feeding matter, such as plankton. Ingestion of plastic debris can be lethal or sub-lethal for marine species. Sub-lethal effects can be impaired reproduction ability, loss of sensitivity, the inability to escape from predators, loss of mobility, decreased growth, and body conditions, according to the review article.

Toxic chemicals like flame retardants, metal ions, and antibiotics are incorporated in some plastics and can also be ingested by wildlife. Fish that have been exposed to these chemicals are unsafe for human consumption. Contaminated seafood sources can create adverse health effects on people.

Some plastics float near the water’s surface while more dense plastics sink down into the deep oceans. If a piece of plastic’s density is greater than that of seawater, the plastic will sink. Plastic in seawater less dense than itself will float. Plastics take on countless shapes and sizes, ranging from large objects, to centimeter-sized scraps, to microscopic bits. Both large and microscopic plastics, therefore, have the potential to interact with marine organisms at all levels of the water column.

The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution

As stated in the review article, extreme climatic conditions such as storms, floods, and monsoons can increase the concentration of plastic in an area. Plastic is spread by wind and water currents. Weather patterns are essentially circulation systems that move plastics through environments. The physical effects of climate change then, are likely influencing the mobilization of plastics between land, sea, and freshwater systems.

Climate change and plastic pollution are linked. While climate change contributes to the movement of plastics, plastics contribute to climate change by being a greenhouse source at all stages of their lifetimes, which fuels global warming.


China’s Record Heatwave, Worst Drought In Six Decades


Chinese mountains with red sun on horizon

In the summer of 2022, parts of China were hit by record-breaking heat waves which reportedly impacted shipping, water irrigation, and hydropower generation. Factory operations in some plants, including Tesla, Foxconn, and Toyota were temporarily suspended due to the power supply shortage.

Is the Yangtze River Drying Up?

There is a shortage of hydropower generated by Yangtze dams because the river water that rotates turbines has partially dried up. Consequently, multiple regions of China, including Sichuan and Hubei, have experienced severe power cuts. The Yangtze river (also known as the “Changjiang” in Chinese) may have dropped to half its average water levels. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), the Yangtze is the world’s third longest river and it extends for 3,900 miles, running through 10 provinces, including Sichuan, Tibet, and Shanghai. Sichuan in particular is highly reliant on hydroelectric dams for power, which makes it among the most impacted.

Under normal conditions, the Yangtze river provides drinking water for hundreds of millions of people. This summer, however, the river has reached historically low water levels due to increased water evaporation caused by record high temperatures. Infrequent rain is also contributing to the decrease in hydropower production, as rainfall increases the amount of water available for hydropower turbines.

2022 China Heat Wave

The 80 million residents in the Sichuan province observed temperatures as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) amid a 70-day heat wave this summer of 2022. In August, the temperature in Chongqing in Sichuan province reportedly hit 45°C (113°F), among the highest temperatures recorded in China. While portions of river reservoirs that would normally be used to generate electricity were drying up, power demands continued to rise as homes and businesses relied on air conditioning to cool off.

China not only witnessed its lowest levels of rainfall in 61 years but also felt what is arguably its most severe heatwave ever recorded in terms of duration and intensity. Widespread drought driven by extreme heat has made governments more concerned with crop protection and water conservation. Local authorities were ordered to cut water supplies were cut for agriculture and industrial uses.

On August 13th at 9:30 a.m., the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) activated level four emergency responses, which requires meteorological departments in the affected region to release timely and accurate updates on the extreme weather.

If nothing else, China’s extreme weather during this summer should raise public awareness of climate change’s effects.


What Causes Weather?


Everyone on Earth experiences the effects of weather in some way or another—hot, cold, dry, humid, snowy, or sunny. So it’s worth considering why our planet has the weather that it does.

Weather is broadly defined as the short-term state of a region’s atmosphere. Changes in the atmosphere are influenced by interactions between air temperature, wind, cloud coverage, precipitation, air humidity, air pressure and radiation from the sun. The sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s weather.

Albedo

Only a fraction of the energy radiated from the sun is absorbed by the Earth. Some of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space due to the Albedo effect. Albedo is the world’s reflectivity of sunlight (heat from the sun). Surfaces that appear white and light colored reflect much more than those that are darkly colored. So the Earth’s albedo is positively enhanced by ice, snow, and clouds.

Earth is estimated to reflect about 30 percent of incoming solar energy. As cloud cover and the total amount of ice and snow change, so too does the planet’s average albedo and temperature.

albedo diagram: sunlight being reflected off snow and cloud
Albedo effect diagram: Sunlight being reflected off clouds and snow

Decreases in snow and ice cover result in decreased average Albedo for Earth and increased global surface temperature.

Greenhouse

Our atmosphere is made up of a thin layer of mixed gases loosely connected to Earth. The most abundant of these gases are nitrogen and oxygen, which are about 99% of the atmosphere’s gases. So-called greenhouse gases, however, are much less present and only appear in trace amounts. Greenhouse gases, including water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and chlorofluorocarbons, are molecules that absorb and emit heat radiation.

It’s important to note that the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are mostly heated by the Earth, not the sun. This is because solar radiation interacts with greenhouse gases differently than terrestrial radiation.

The sun’s energy contains visible, shortwave radiation that mostly passes through Earth’s atmosphere because greenhouse gases do not absorb shortwave radiation very well. Shortwave radiation that reaches Earth’s surface is reemitted by Earth as infrared, longwave radiation. Greenhouse gases are highly effective at absorbing longwave radiation. Some of the heat absorbed by greenhouse gases radiates out into space and some of it returns to further heat the Earth.

Of all greenhouse gases emitted by human activity, methane and carbon dioxide contribute most to global warming. Methane has the greatest warming potential, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere the longest (for an estimated 100 years). Greenhouse gases, like those produced from burning fossil fuels, reinforce heating in the atmosphere.



Wind

The wind is the movement of air and other particles in the atmosphere. The wind is caused by differences in air pressure. Air pressure, or air density, is the measure of force with which air molecules push on a surface.

Air pressure is closely correlated with temperature (elevation and air moisture are also relevant). Generally, warm air is less dense than cold air. As molecules of air are heated, the space between them expands and creates lower density. Inversely, as air molecules are cooled, they group together more tightly and exert more force on whatever is beneath. If one area heats up more than another, the warmer air will expand and rise, and cooler, more dense air, will rush in to take its place. The speed of the wind is largely determined by the differences between air pressures. Wind flow patterns form circular loops over land and water as temperatures fluctuate continuously between night and day and between seasons.

Precipitation

Precipitation is any water that is pulled down from clouds by gravity. Precipitation may fall as a liquid or a solid. Rain is an example of liquid water fall; hail and snow are examples of solid. Precipitation is a facet of the water cycle, which includes evaporation, condensation, and transpiration.

Standing water on the Earth evaporates because of solar heat and becomes water vapor. In most cases, water vapor in the air is invisible to us. Sometimes, however, we’re able to see air moisture in the form of mist or fog. At this level, water molecules are gaseous. Water molecules do not transition to liquids unless they accumulate in greater numbers on the surfaces of larger particles, such as dust or smoke. This is why dust and smoke particles are examples of cloud condensation nuclei, they allow for a sufficient build up of water molecules for cloud formation. Depending on the temperature of the cloud, precipitation may fall as a frozen solid, or liquid water, or a combination of both.

Liquid water also moves along the ground in rivers and run offs, which gets absorbed by plants and eventually passes back into the air as water vapor.

Temperature

Among other factors, a region’s temperature depends on its elevation and distance from the equator (the imaginary line that divides the Earth into northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere). Both of Earth’s poles (marked with red leading lines on the diagram below) are the furthest distances from the equator that one can go. These two extremes, each of the planet’s poles and the equator are the coldest and warmest places on Earth respectively.

The equatorial region is consistently hot year-round because the sun’s rays always impinge on it from overhead. In other words, sunlight strikes Earth most directly at the equator. At the poles, however, the sun’s ray strike Earth at more acute angles, therefore sunlight is spread over a larger distance, which lessens its heating effect. The greater the surface area energy is spread across, the lower the energy per unit area. This is why the sun’s heat is not fully felt at sunrise or sunset, but rather when the sun is most directly overhead.

Earth is vertically tilted 23.5 degrees relative to its plane of orbit around the sun. So for half the year, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, while the southern hemisphere is pointed toward the sun. For the remainder of the year, the reverse is true. The polar regions then, experience less direct sunlight due to their 6-month periods of “away-tilt”. The equator has no away tilt periods and instead is exposed to more direct sunlight year-round.

Temperature is also greatly influenced by the presence of region, vegetation, elevation, time of year, distance from the sea, and so on.


The Arctic Has Warmed Nearly Four Times Faster Than the Globe Since 1979


Artic land ice and snow

On August 11, 2022, a study was published in Nature Communications Earth & Environment on Arctic amplification (AA), the relatively higher rate of warming in the Arctic compared to all other parts of the globe. AA, also known as polar amplification, is thought to be due to feedback from reduced cold-season ice and snow cover.

In other words, ice loss in the Arctic causes the region to have greater temperature change averages than the rest of the planet. Though this fact has been well established in previous literature, authors of “The Arctic Has Warmed Nearly Four Times Faster Than the Globe Since 1979” declare that AA is presently happening at higher ratios than what’s been reported in the past.

According to authors Mika Rantanen, Alexey Karpechko, Antti Lipponen, Kalle Nordling, Otto Hyvärinen, Kimmo Ruosteenoja, Timo Vihma, and Ari Laaksonen, warming ratios from previous studies are based on possibly outdated estimates that do not include the most recent observations. If true, previous studies will have likely underestimated present-day Arctic heating rates.

Mika Rantanen and colleagues used several observational datasets for the Arctic region to more accurately quantify the current magnitude of AA. They included four climate models in their calculations: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature version 4 (GISTEMP), the Berkeley Earth temperature dataset (BEST), the Met Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit version 5.0.1.0 (HadCRUT5) and ERA5 reanalysis.



Arctic Circle

Rantanen’s team claims that “the period of interest and the area of the Arctic can be defined in multiple ways”. To put it another way, AA estimates will vary according to the timeframe studied and the definition of what qualifies as the geographic area of the Arctic. Rantanen’s team primarily defined the Arctic using the Arctic Circle as the southern boundary (66.5–90N, the area located above 66.5 degrees latitude) and focus on warming trends for the last 43 years.

During the last 43 years, more accurate satellite remote sensing data and observations on atmospheric variables and sea ice concentration have become available. This period is crucial for AA calculations, as 1979–2021 is thought to be a period of relatively strong Arctic warming.

Their results are evidence that major portions of the Arctic Ocean warmed nearly four times faster than the globe from the years 1979–2021, whereas previous studies report the Arctic warming at nearly twice, or about twice as quickly as the global average. AA was most severe in Novaya Zemlya sea areas, which warmed up to seven times as fast as the global average.

Ice Melt

There are multiple reasons for accelerated Arctic heating. Human-caused global warming is likely an integral cause of recent heating trends. On top of that, ice loss within the Arctic Circle plays a role. Ice that was once frozen for all or most of the year, is increasingly shrinking. Sea ice loss reinforces global warming because melting ice gives way to a darker ocean. Brightly colored snow and ice surfaces reflect sunlight back into space at a higher rate than the surfaces of darkly colored seawater, which are more efficient at absorbing sunlight and heat energy.


 

Climate Change Is Costly


Climate change is already underway and is predicted to worsen. Human industrial activities, most notably those that involve the use of fossil fuels, are partly responsible for the accumulation of excess greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. The resultant increased rate of warming promotes droughts, wildfires, sea level rise, and other hazardous outcomes for people, crops, wildlife, and infrastructure.

The impacts of climate change could cost $1.9 trillion per year (in today’s dollars) by 2100 according to Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth A. Stanton of the Global Development and Environment Institute and Stockholm Environment Institute-US Center. Their analysis is based on just four symptoms of global warming: hurricane damages, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs. They go on to state that immediate greenhouse emissions reductions are necessary to prevent most of global warming’s damages.

Other problems associated with climate change like declining biodiversity and decreased agriculture production will likely lower economic output in countries that rely on agriculture for total productivity. Jobs in agriculture, fishing, logging, and aquaculture require specific climate conditions and predictable weather patterns so that food, medicine, and material demands for human populations can be met.


Fossil Fuels


Fossil fuels are organic substances that are removed from the Earth’s crust and used for energy. The remnants of decomposing biota (mostly plants and animals) naturally create carbon- and hydrogen-plentiful compounds (also known as hydrocarbons) as they become buried, compressed and heated over millions of years. Hydrocarbon deposits are then extracted from underground sources by way of mining, hydraulic fracturing, and drilling. Burning hydrocarbons produces heat energy which powers engines, generates electricity and supports industrial processes.

In the 21st century, fossil fuels are burned to meet most human energy needs. They also serve as the base for common plastic products, such as shopping bags, car parts, containers, electronics and clothing. Our reliance on fossil fuels is increasing the net amount of heat energy in the planet’s atmosphere, causing global average temperatures to rise. The resultant greenhouse gases from burning these fuels also contributes to ocean acidification, air pollution and water pollution.

Fossil Fuels Definition


The phrase ‘fossil fuels’ generically refers to hydrocarbon-containing materials formed by the burial of photosynthetic organisms (life forms that use sunlight to synthesize nutrients like oxygen and sugars from water and carbon dioxide). Hydrocarbons are molecules consisting of bonded hydrogen and carbon atoms. The stored energy in fossilized hydrocarbon compounds release energy in the form of heat when burned. Hydrocarbon combustion, the chemical reaction in which hydrocarbons interact with oxygen, also produces water and carbon dioxide.

How Fossil Fuels Are Formed

Fossil fuels are formed by geological processes acting on the remains of living organisms from millions of years ago. As fossil compounds become buried deeper and deeper underground, they are exposed to increasing amounts of pressure and heat, which transform them into coal, natural gas or oil. The form that the ancient remains take depends on the type of organic matter involved, the amount of time its been buried and the degree pressure and temperature. For example, plankton and algae can naturally transition from kerogen to petroleum if given enough time.

Fossil Fuels Used For

Fossil fuels have a diverse range of uses across sectors in civilization. Oil specifically, has byproducts that are used in pesticides and fertilizers. Natural gas is sometimes used to for refrigerating and cooling equipment, and to heat buildings. Coal, perhaps the most abundant fuel source, is critical for the generation of electricity. Fossil fuels may continue to dominate our energy economy because strategies and technologies for their extraction continue to improve.

Fossil Fuels Examples

Here are a few examples of fossil fuels, and products that contain them:

  • Propane
  • Butane
  • Peat products
  • Refinery feedstocks
  • Phones
  • Lubricants
  • Insulation
  • Solvents
  • Ink
  • Antifreeze
  • Diesel fuel
  • Motor Oil
  • Gasoline
  • Roofing materials
  • Detergents
  • Clothes made of synthetic fibers; including polyester, polyurethane, acrylic and nylon
  • CDs/computer disks
  • Glue
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Fertilizers
  • Pesticides
  • Prosthetic limbs
  • Solar Panels
  • Asphalt
  • Cosmetics containing paraffin wax
  • Computer keyboards and monitors
  • Paints