Any discussion of carbon fuels tends to carry the assumption they are all the same. There are, however, many different types of carbon fuels comprising this energy source.
Types of Carbon Fuels
While all carbon fuels are generally used for the same purpose, producing energy, there are different types of carbon fuels. Carbon fuels are the hydrocarbon fuels that are found underneath within the Earth. They were produced millions of years ago during the Carboniferous period of history. These fuels are very important to the Earth’s population, as most of our energy is produced by their burning. Formed from decayed plant and animal matter that was both compressed and heated underground, carbon fuels are a non-renewable resource because they are no longer being created.
The three major types of carbon fuels are coal, oil and natural gas. Coal has been used for thousands of years since cavemen first began burning it to heat their caves and cook their food. A solid, shiny black substance, coal is a carbon based fuel that became especially important in the 1800s when both the industrial revolution and the locomotive combustion engine relied on its use. Machinery, as well as transportation, grew quickly once coal was found to be a portable and easy to use power source.
Generally, the hardest types of coal, bituminous and anthracite, are used in the burning of coal. These forms of coal are fairly prevalent. They are mined by strip mining or digging down into coal veins with the raw material then being transported to the surface for refinement. Coal is not clean burning, very efficient or environmentally friendly. The material is also very hazardous to the miners given the dangerous work environment and the coal dust that imbeds in their lungs.
Oil is the most widely used of the types of carbon fuels. Oil (petroleum) is found in natural reservoirs underneath the Earth’s surface. Pumps and piping are drilled down underground to reach these stores of oil, and then it is pumped up to the surface. Crude oil is then refined for use as heating oil, gasoline and many other combustible fuels. Oil’s portability and easy to burn properties make it an excellent source of energy. The burning of oil has a number of drawbacks. It produces significant air pollutants and carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas. Furthermore, oil reserves are not spread equally over the planet, giving rise to political and military tensions associated with the control of the resource.
Natural gas is the last prevalent carbon fuel we use in modern society. While oil and coal formed the backbone of the industrial revolution, natural gas has become more of a player recently. Natural gas is primarily comprised of methane, another greenhouse gas. Natural gas is found in many of the same places as oil and coal, but was not originally a popular energy resource due to transportation and a lack of stability. In fact, it was simply burned off using flaring pipes in many oil fields. With modern advances, natural gas is now much easier to control as it is reduced to a liquefied form for transportation. In fact, flaring of natural gas is no illegal in many countries. As with oil, natural gas has many problems related to the production of greenhouse gases and the fact it is found in abundance in only a few countries such as Iran. While oil gets much of the attention, natural gas reserves are actually under much more stress.
The different types of carbon fuels used in the world today are fast being depleted. With the economies of countries such as India and China growing at shocking rates, the demand will only increase. This will putt the different types of carbon fuels under more stress and inevitably lead to political and military conflict.