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Effects of Burning Fossil Fuels

Effects of Burning Fossil Fuels – Definition, Types, Effects, Practice Problems and FAQ

What do you believe is a better fuel for our everyday automobiles and motorcycles?

Typically, we use two different types of fuel for our automobiles: one is petrol, and the other is diesel. These two fuels cannot be mixed. Whether it's a petrol or diesel vehicle, the engine is specifically made for that fuel type.

What would happen if we used diesel in a petrol vehicle?

Let's start by talking about what the engine does. Fuel and oxygen are burned inside the engine, converting the heat energy created by the combustion reaction into mechanical energy. Now, if a petrol car's engine is started while having diesel in its tank, the stickier diesel will clog the spark plug and fueling system, as well as the fuel filter. The automobile will probably stall as a result, and the engine will misfire and produce a lot of smoke. Diesel and petrol engines operate differently.

Comparatively speaking to a petrol engine, a diesel engine creates a lot of smoke.

Wait! What is calorific value?

Calorific value is the quantity of energy generated when a certain quantity of fuel is burned in the presence of air. We actually use the fuel for our automobiles based on the calorific value.


Calorific Value (kJ/kg)

















Cow dung cake


So, some substances produce more heat when combusted and some produce less amount of energy for the same amount of substance.

Let’s get to know more about fossil fuels on this concept page!


  • Fossil Fuels – Definition
  • Fossil Fuels – Types
  • Fossil Fuels – Effects
  • Fossil Fuels – Facts
  • Practice Problems
  • Frequently Asked Questions – FAQ

Fossil Fuels – Definition

Fossil fuels are materials that contain hydrocarbons that are produced from decaying plants and animals and their remains that have been buried underground for a long time. These materials are retrieved and burned by humans to produce energy for a variety of uses. Petroleum,c atural gas are the three basic types of fossil fuels. These are taken out by people using mining and drilling. Burning fossil fuels releases energy that can be utilised to power electrical generators, motor engines, or internal combustion engines or for direct heating in the kitchen.

When fossil fuels are refined in the chemical industry using a variety of techniques, other chemical derivatives can be created. Kerosene, gasoline, and propane are some of the refined fossil fuels that are frequently used, and plastics and agricultural products like fertilisers and pesticides are some of the frequently used chemically derived products. Despite being used for a variety of purposes, fuels are designated as being environmentally hazardous because they have a direct impact on communities and the climate at every stage of their usage, from fuel extraction and transportation through consumption.

Fossil Fuels – Types

Let's examine the formation of fossil fuels. Any group of hydrocarbon-containing compounds with biological origins that are present in the Earth's crust and have the potential to be a source of energy are known as fossil fuels. Majorly, there are three primary types of fossil fuels, namely, coal, natural gas and petroleum.

  1. Coal

Petroleum, coal, and natural gas are all gases, liquids, and solids, respectively. In the mining field, workers collect coal from the ground, which resembles bits of pitch-black rock. Coal can be salvaged during surface mining or underground mining. The technique is simple when it comes to surface mining. Five different components make up coal: sulphur hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon and oxygen, with the proportions of these elements varying from piece to piece. In any case, coal is still utilised today for a variety of purposes, including making steel and cement as well as powering homes and businesses.

  1. Natural Gas

Methane, (CH4), the primary component of natural gas, is very light in weight. Natural gas moves up from far below the Earth's surface and collects in traps with petroleum, but petroleum is only produced within the oil window. The three main properties of natural gas are flammability, odour and colour. Methane is highly flammable, odourless and colourless.

  1. Petroleum

Petroleum, sometimes termed oil, is the most often utilised and discussed form of fossil fuel around the planet today. Although refined gasoline is what comes out of the earth at oil wells, today we think of oil as the fuel that we put into our cars at gas stations.

Crude oil, on the other hand, is a type of petroleum that develops spontaneously. Petroleum is made up of carbon and hydrogen that have undergone an organic phase in single-celled plants or creatures that are animals, such as blue-green algae.

Through a process known as diagenesis, these species' preserved remains are converted to petroleum. A petroleum's primary hydrocarbon determines its classification. Based on specific gravity, there are five different classes of crude oil, with light being the most desirable.

Fossil Fuels – Effects

The ecosystem, human health, climatic conditions and air quality can all be impacted by the burning of fossil fuels. Every recent scientific study has concluded that the main cause of the rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels driving climate change is the combustion of fossil fuels like gas, oil and coal for energy. As the amount of fossil fuels burned rises, the climate will shift and the temperature will rise. The mining, processing, and burning of fossil fuels may be harmful to the local population's health.

Global Warming

The use of fossil fuels and global warming are intimately related. The increase in temperature on the Earth's surface is due to high amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is due to the greenhouse effect, which occurs when carbon dioxide stores heat from sunlight and prevents it from escaping the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels produces a significant amount of carbon dioxide because they are hydrocarbons, which are substances consisting of hydrogen and carbon. The quantity of heat that the carbon dioxide gas can absorb likewise rises when the amount of carbon dioxide in the air significantly rises. In turn, this leads to an increase in the Earth's surface temperature globally, also known as global warming.

Rising of Sea Level

The Earth's climate may suffer as a result of sea level rise. The weather will fluctuate drastically in many different places on the earth. The Earth's glaciers will melt considerably more quickly. As a result, locations close to water, such as coastal regions and riverbanks, are more susceptible to becoming flooded underwater.

Water will encompass many islands, deltas, and densely populated towns. In certain inland regions with extreme weather, droughts and floods might happen more regularly. Cities that are close to the ocean would also experience the effects.

Air Pollution

When we purchase things and services that require energy for production and delivery, we are also indirectly contributing to air pollution. When fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas and coal are used to create energy and power for our vehicles, we tend to make the majority of the air pollution. When fossil fuels are burned, they release more than just carbon dioxide. Numerous toxic pollutants, including mercury, lead, sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter, are produced when fossil fuels are burned. 42% of the harmful mercury emissions and the great majority of the particulate matter in our air are produced only by coal-fired power plants.

In the meanwhile, the primary sources of the hazardous nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide gas that cause smog (and metabolic disorders) on hot days are fossil fuel-powered trucks, automobiles, and boats. Unburned particles are released into the environment when fuels like coal and petroleum are burned. The particles cause air pollution and respiratory disorders such as lung damage, respiratory illness, and the ozone (smog) effect, and they lessen the blood's capacity to carry oxygen to the organs and tissues, including the liver and kidney.

Acid Rain

Fossil fuel combustion releases toxic substances including nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide. These substances rise high into the atmosphere, where they react with oxygen, water and other chemicals to form acidic pollutants. Oxides of sulphur and nitrogen dissolve readily in water and travel great distances in the wind. Due to their long-distance mobility, both compounds contribute to the fog, snow, sleet, and rain that we occasionally experience.

The main cause of acid rain is human activity. We have discharged so many different chemicals into the atmosphere over the past few decades that they have altered the composition of atmospheric gases. When large power plants burn fossil fuels like coal to create electricity, the bulk of sulphur dioxide and most nitrogen oxides are released. In addition, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide are released into the air by the gases from buses, trucks and cars. By way of the wind, these contaminants produce acid rain.

Spilling of Oil

Tankers and ships are frequently used to transport crude oil or petroleum from one location to another. Oil spills are brought on by tanker leaks of any kind. This situation could result in water pollution and be harmful to marine life. As a result, it is clear that the problems of climate change, global warming and fossil fuels are all related. Our collective efforts must be crucial in limiting their negative impacts. We can protect mother Earth from any huge catastrophe if we each take a few little steps. When our homes are empty, we should use less energy, and we should only use our cars for short trips. Additionally, we must cease chopping trees and regularly plant new saplings. This is due to the fact that plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, preventing it from rising and preserving the environment. It is now up to us to turn the tide after our actions put the Earth in danger.

Ocean Acidification

Burning gas, coal, and crude oil alters the chemistry of the water, increasing its acidity. Our oceans can take up to 25% of the carbon emissions. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and as a result of our use of fossil fuels, the ocean has gotten 30% more acidic. The amount of calcium carbonate, a material utilised by oysters, lobsters, and numerous other marine species to produce shells, will decrease as the acidity of our seas rises. When a species' growth rate is slowed, the shells become more brittle and the entire food chain is put in danger.

When we start looking at the repercussions of using fossil fuels, we can see that every issue is connected. To protect the environment, we must limit fuel consumption.

Fossil Fuels – Facts

Fossil fuel combustion is the mainstay of modern society. Due to high pressure and temperature for more than a million years, these fuels are created deep under the Earth's crust and ultimately lead to the development of "non-renewable" energy. Eighty per cent of the total energy we use each day is derived from fossil fuels. As a result, knowing the following facts concerning fossil fuels is important.

  • All fossil fuels are the end product of millions of years of undersea, high-temperature, and high-pressure decomposition of dead and decaying materials like plants and animals.
  • Although fossil fuels are used to create electricity and a variety of other energy types, they are also utilised to create different grades of plastic.
  • As the report claims, we have limited oil reserves that will endure for another 100 years and non-renewable sources of energy that will last for another 1000 years, fossil fuels may run out very quickly.
  • Oil shale is one of the most underutilised fossil fuels and a major game-changer in the current situation. It has been discovered all over the planet and is thousand times more abundant and effective at producing energy than crude oil.
  • Since fossil fuels are more economical, they account for the majority of all energy resources.

Practice Problems

Q1. Which of the following is not a greenhouse gas?

A. Methane
B. Hydrogen
C. Nitrous oxide
D. Ozone

Answer: B
Solution: The main greenhouse gases that affect climate are water vapour, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and. A greenhouse gas (GHG or GhG) is a gas that produces the greenhouse effect by absorbing and emitting radiant energy in the thermal infrared spectrum. Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas when compared to the other gases included in the options.

So, option B is the correct answer.

Q2. Burning of fossil fuels results in

A. Increased oxygen level
B. Decreased amount of greenhouse gases
C. Increased amount of greenhouse gases
D. Increased ethane level

Answer: C
Solution: Massive amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, are emitted into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. Greenhouse gases, which trap heat in our atmosphere, are to blame for global warming.

So, option C is the correct answer.

Q3. Which gas is required for the fuel to burn in order to produce heat energy?

A. Oxygen
B. Hydrogen
C. Methane
D. Nitrogen

Answer: A
Solution: The fuel is burned in the presence of oxygen to create energy in the form of heat. Additionally, this thermal energy can be used to drive ships, automobiles, and locomotives, and to produce electricity in steam-powered facilities.

So, option A is the correct answer.

Q4. Which fuel does a large portion of steam power plants use?

A. Oil
B. Gas
C. Coal
D. Petroleum

Answer: C
Solution: Coal, the oldest form of fuel is still used extensively by steam power plants and other power-producing facilities around the globe. As a heterogeneous composition, coal always nitrogen, sulphur, oxygen, hydrogen, and a few non-combustible minerals.

So, option C is the correct answer.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQ

Q1. How do fossil fuels and climate change relate to one another?
Answer: Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere in massive quantities when fossil fuels are burned. Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases, which trap heat in our atmosphere. Already, there has been a 1 oC rise in the average world temperature.

Q2. What three consequences result from using fossil fuels?
Answer: Burning fossil fuels causes three negative effects: air pollution, water pollution, and climate change. The substances generated during the burning of fossil fuels are to blame for these impacts.

Q3. How can the combustion of fossil fuels be stopped?
Answer: Every time you drive a car, you burn fossil fuels. You can reduce your need for fossil fuel to power your car by switching to another means of transportation. If your city has a bus, train, or subway system, consider using it. You can let someone else drive while you read or take care of other things by taking public transportation. You can get some exercise while using fewer fossil fuels by biking or walking.

Q4. Why do people burn fossil fuels?
Answer: Energy is produced by burning fossil fuels in a variety of methods for people all over the world. The energy, transportation, and industrial sectors are all supported by fossil fuels.

Related Topics


Composition of Air

Waste and Waste Management

Uses of Air

Water Cycle Process


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