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Unit 6

6.3 Fuel Types and Uses

5 min readjanuary 29, 2021

karla-jauregui

Karla Jauregui Sandoval


AP Environmental Science ♻️

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Biomass 

Biomass is a fuel type that comes from organic material - living organisms such as plant or animal waste that is being burned for energy. 
Wood is commonly used as a fuel source as firewood or charcoal. Developing countries rely on the use of biomass as a fuel source because it is easily accessible and can be replenished. 

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Biomass is considered renewable if only the rate of replenishing the sources is faster than usage. 
  • Wood - heats up homes, used for cooking 
  • Agriculture crops - converted to liquid biofuels. 
Biomass is used mostly in the form for heat that is used for cooking. When burned it can also drive steam through a turbine to produce electricity. Biomass is also being used to produce biofuels - ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is made from plant material and can be combined with gasoline to reduce smog releasing agents such as carbon monoxide. Biodiesel is a cleaner source of fuel as it is made from vegetable oil and animal fats.

Oil

Oil is made from millions of years of dead organic material such as plants that are decomposed. Lots of heat and pressure is needed to turn it into hydrocarbon. Hydrocarbons are simple organic compounds that are made up of only hydrogen and carbon.  Oil is usually found in sandstone and limestone. 

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Oil or Petroleum Oil is made directly from decomposed organic material such  as plants and animals. Crude oil is located on top of what was once the sea. The material found is composed of long chains of hydrocarbons (containing hydrogen and carbon molecules). Hydrocarbons are so important because they contain a lot of potential energy. Oil is used more automobiles, 
Crude oil can be extracted from tar sands which are made up of clay, sand, water and bitumen. Saudi Arabia is a country rich with crude oil deposits.
During oil production, companies set up large refineries that take up lots of space and increase their carbon footprint. Large machines are used to drill underground and when there is oil detected it is pumped upward.  The Middle East has lots of oil because of their geology. Swamps and oceans open up the opportunity for this dead material to turn into oil. 
While the demand for oil has risen, companies are looking for innovative new ways to pump oil. They have started to move their facilities to the ocean. Some problems arise with this change, it takes money, time and knowledge to build a system that will be safe to marine wildlife and effective. Because the ocean is so deep, oil will be found in the pre-salt layer. This layer is more difficult to access so the chance of errors with the technology is higher. 

Oil Spills 

Oil spills can occur if something goes wrong in production such as failure in the storage systems or during transport. The effects of oil spills are harmful to wildlife/marine life and a very long time to clean up the mess. 
The 2010 Deep water horizon was an oil spill in the gulf of mexico. This disaster took a long time to stop the spilling that sunk to the bottom of the ocean. It was one of the largest oil spills with 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled. The environmental damage caused by this spill was birds dying off in the first week from the oil that covered their fur. Their fur protects their body temperature and they can not survive if this protective layer is covered with dense oil. 
The 1985 Exxon Valdez oil spill occured while a tanker was heading to Alaska and it hit an iceberg. The barrels of oil that were spilled were less than the Deep Water horizon incident however this spill is still being cleaned up till this day. The impact of this spill was the US involvement in regulations being put into place. The OPA90 regulations state how to learn to respond to a spill. 

Coal & Peat 

Peat is made up of decomposed organic material that can be burned for fuel. There are four stages of how peat is converted into coal.
Stage 1 - Peat ➱ early stage of development, made up of 60% water and is not efficient to use for heat conversion to energy 
Stage 2 - Lignite ➱ compressed peat 
Stage 3- Bituminous ➱ compressed lignite
Stage 4 - Anthracite ➱ high heat content = more energy (fuel) 
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Three types of coal used for fuel are lignite, bituminous, and anthracite. The change in heat, pressure, and depth contribute to the development of various coal types and their qualities. Anthracite is most commonly used as a fuel source because of its high heat content. Its availability is limited and is found in reservoirs with high organic matter levels. 
This development of peat is why conserving peatlands is very important. Destroying peatlands does not allow for coal to be produced underground.
Coal is a mixture of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and other atoms. When burned, coal produces heat and light energy longer than wood. In fact, the United States has an abundance of coal which it uses for energy.
Coal is made up of living organisms that have decomposed in places such as swamps, wetlands, and landfills. 

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Cogeneration 

Cogeneration is the process of using two forms of energy from the same fuel source. The CHP burns fuel, natural gas, to produce electricity. However, the difference with cogeneration is that it uses the excess heat that is normally released into the atmosphere, to provide heating or cooling.  Cogeneration is used in small facilities by non-utility companies and by institutions like universities and the military. 

Natural Gas 

Natural gas is a fuel source that is made of mostly methane and some traces of carbon dioxide and water vapor. Natural gas is considered nonrenewable because it takes a long time for it to replenish itself. It is made up of layers of dead organic material. Layer of sand,silt and rock built on top of this decomposed material
Machinery is used to drill down to the gas deposits where oil and natural gas form under the pressure and heat underground. Natural gas is considered the cleanest energy source when it is burned because it releases few pollutants - Carbon dioxide and water vapor.
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