Man’s needs for fuel, since the old times, have been met through fossil fuels, which are extracted from the organic remains of prehistoric animals and plants. Comprising mainly of coal, oil and gas, they are used for most of the world’s electric power and other energy demands, but are foreseen to be in short supply in the future, as our fuel needs continue to grow at a fast rate.
The use of fossil fuels is one of the most popular topics during debates, considering what it can do for us and how it impacts our lives. To give you a good perspective on this matter, here are the advantages and disadvantages of fossil fuels:
List of Advantages of Fossil Fuels
1. They produce large amounts of energy.
These energy sources are easily combustible, where most combustion engines just need a little amount of them to power up. Industrial revolution has popularized their use, where all machines, vehicles and some devices depend on the fossil fuels, may it be petroleum, coal or natural gas.
2. They are easily available.
Since fossil fuels have been of such a great utility, more extractions are done every day. With the advancements in science and technology, refineries and extraction procedures have also improved a lot, making their availability even easier.
3. They are stable.
Composed of the molecules of mainly carbon and hydrogen, fossil fuels are very stable. They are easy to store because of the constancy in their molecular constitution, not forming other compounds if stored in cans for a longer periods of time. This is the same reason why carrying them is also easier than other forms of fuel.
4. They have high calorific value.
All energy we produce has a specific calorific value, and the more it is, the more it is effective. When it comes to fossil fuels, they are the highest producers of calorific value, which is why they are still preferred over renewable or alternative energy sources.
5. They can be easily stored and transported.
One big advantage of using fossil fuels is that they can be easily stored and transported. Having a stable composition, they are strong enough to be carried from one place to another. Even natural gas is already being transported to different areas.
6. They are easy to set up.
Since fossil fuels are easily available, their power plants can be constructed anywhere in the world. They are also easier to extract and process, as well as capable of producing large amounts of energy at a single location.
7. They cost low.
Due to their availability throughout the world and easy extraction methods, fossil fuels are that expensive. To obtain them in a refined form, they just need to be properly treated without a wide set up, so it is economical. Unlike alternative energy sources, like wind or solar, investments needed for their facilities are too high, preventing many people from installing solar panels and wind turbines at home.
List of Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels
1. They pose environmental hazards.
When burnt, fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas that is the main culprit of global warming. It is important to note that temperature rises have resulted the polar ice caps to melt, leading to rises in sea levels and flooding of low-lying. These conditions would be devastating to many people on the planet.
2. They contribute to acid rain.
During combustion, fossil fuels also produce sulphur dioxide, which is a factor for acid rain. This phenomenon destroys monuments that are made of brickwork or marbles and even crops, which are affected due to loam acidification.
3. They are non-renewable.
As fossil fuels are extracted to an unlimited level, they would surely deplete one day. They are non-renewable, so it is likely that fuel expenses will face a hike in near future, and it would take millions of years to replace them. There are on a limited amount, and we are not actually sure where that limit is.
4. They affect human health.
The ozone layer is being worn-out by the greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels. Ozone holes allow harmful UV rays to enter the Earth’s atmosphere, affecting human life through diseases, particularly skin cancer. Remember that melanin reacts with high wave radiations, creating infra-red rays and pigments that are harmful to our skin.
5. They come with coal-mining dangers.
Extracting coal from areas with huge reserves is not only a difficult and dangerous task, but is also a risk of contracting health conditions to the workers. Aside from this, coal mining destroys vast lands, which can result in ecological imbalance.
6. They affect marine life through oil spills.
Fossil fuels, being needed to be transported to their processing plants via land, air and water poses a threat to the environment. The process can involve leaks in oil tankers or ships getting drowned deep under the sea. The crude oil contains some toxic substances that, when mixed up with water, pose serious hazards to marine life.
7. They need huge amounts of reserves.
Coal power plants need regular and huge supply of resources to produce large amounts of electricity on a constant basis, which means they need reserves of almost train-loads of fuel for the power stations to carry out their operations.
8. They have rising prices.
Countries in the Middle East have huge oil and gas reserves, so many other countries are dependent on them for constant fuel supply. They comprise the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which is are responsible for almost half the world’s oil production, even holding the majority of oil reserves. It constantly monitors the volume of oil consumption and then adjusts its own production to maintain desired barrel prices. This results oil price fluctuations around the world.
As consumers, it is really important to know the good and the bad of what we use every day. For fossil fuels, we can now have the capability of making an informed decision on their use with the advantages and disadvantages listed above.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.