Crude oil and other sources of fuel is one of the topics studied in GCSE Science. This is the third of six quizzes on that subject and it looks specifically at the pollution caused by fuels.
We have the Industrial Revolution to thank for the quality of life that we enjoy today. If it wasn't for fossil fuels, the Industrial Revolution would probably not have happened. Before the Industrial Revolution, charcoal was the main fuel. It is made by heating wood in conditions of low oxygen. As the Industrial Revolution got underway, more and more coal was needed to fuel steam engines and furnaces. The development of factories and improvements to the steam engines caused further increase in the demand for coal. In the middle of the 19th Century, oil lamps were still powered by whale oil which was very expensive. In Derbyshie, a scientist discovered how to distil a substitute, kerosene.
About 10 years later, people started drilling for oil in Texas, USA, and found plenty. Fractional distillation of this crude oil revealed many other chemicals that could be used as fuels and it wasn't long until the first engines were made that burnt the petrol, or gasoline, fraction. Later, engines that ran on other fractions were developed, including the jet engine.
Crude oil and coal are both formed from ancient biomasses found in rocks. Coal formed from trees and plants that grew in swampy warm forests and crude oil formed from the remains of dead sea plants and sea creatures. Since they were formed millions of years ago, they are called fossil fuels.
Pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels has been recognised for some time. Here in the 21st Century, we still use coal and fuels from oil but have also begun to develop biofuels. Biofuels are produced from plant material and by allowing plants and animal dung to rot down, producing 'biogas'. They are therefore potentially renewable. But whatever the source of our fuels, they create pollution. Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide that has been locked away for millions of years. Many scientists believe that this is creating problems with our climate and causing global warming.