Tag Archives: energy

Easy Science: how oil forms

In the late 1800s, the main use for petroleum was to produce kerosene for heating lamps. Gasoline, a byproduct of this process, was considered a waste; in Pennsylvania, this "waste product" was dumped into the river, where it sometimes caught fire! At the turn of the century, the appearance of the gasoline-powered engine would usher in the "Oil Age", forever changing the world's relationship with "black gold". Modern societies have grown to depend on this millions-years-old substance to function, guzzling over 30 billion barrels a year. Based on estimations of remaining reservoirs, we can keep this rate up through 2050-2150. Walking through the process of how oil forms underscores just how amazing the substance--a fossil from millions of years prior, surviving only be coincidence--really is.

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Easy Science: how coal forms

Coal forms when vegetation partially decays in low-oxygen environments, such as swamps. Burial heats and compacts the plant matter, squeezing out water and gases (like methane) while leaving behind carbon. Thus, as the coal increases in rank, its carbon content--and the amount of energy it holds--goes up while its water content goes down.

The coal rank order is: Peat → Lignite (brown coal) → Bituminous coal → Anthracite Read more