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Earth Science
Nonrenewable Resources - Fossil Fuels


Nonrenewable Resources - Fossil Fuels
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 10
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   9.09

     challenging words:    anthracite, bituminous, lignite, organically, waxes, consumption, burning, unrefined, sedimentary, shale, composition, geologists, impermeable, compounds, finding, heavily
     content words:    In Europe, United States

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Nonrenewable Resources - Fossil Fuels
By Trista L. Pollard

1     Deep within our Earth's crust there lies some of our most important natural resources. These resources help to heat our homes, run our cars, and maintain machinery in our major industries. As the high demand for these natural resources continues to grow, so must the realization that these resources are limited and nonrenewable.
2     Nonrenewable resources like coal, petroleum, and natural gas, are those resources that are limited in quantity and cannot be replaced quickly after use. Coal, petroleum, and natural gas are produced organically which is why they are classified as fossil fuels. Fossil fuels form from the remains of plants and animals over millions of years. These resources also contain hydrocarbons or compounds of carbon and hydrogen. Stored energy collected by plants and animals from millions of years ago remains in the compounds. It's this stored energy that is released when the hydrocarbons are burned. The burning causes the bonds to break in the hydrocarbons which release heat and light. As countries have become more industrialized, humans have increased the amount of hydrocarbons that are burned, therefore increasing the amount of energy we consume. Before we get into the factors that make these resources nonrenewable, let's discuss how they are formed.
3     The coal deposits that exist on our planet today were formed by the remains of plants from millions of years ago. These remains have gone through the process of carbonization. The process begins when plants that are not fully decomposed are buried in areas that have little or no exposure to oxygen. Swamp areas and bogs fit this condition. Once the plants are buried, they become a substance called peat. While in the swamp or bog, the peat is partially consumed by bacteria. This causes the methane gas, CH4 to be released, along with carbon dioxide, CO2. The chemical composition of the peat changes as the gas is released. Eventually if the oxygen is present in the swamp or bog, then only peat will be produced. You see, it is the absence of oxygen that allows the first stage of coal production, carbonization, to occur. There also needs to be enough time for coal to form. When there is not enough time, the peat will not transform into coal. In Europe, specifically Iceland and Scotland, peat is used for fuel. The peat is harvested and burned to provide heat for homes. There are also some electric power plants that use peat as fuel.

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