From biotechnology to bioethics, Biology Topics have significant implications for society as a whole.
Is Coal and Petroleum Energy?
Coal and petroleum are called fossil fuels. Coal and petroleum are the natural resources which are important ‘sources’ of energy for us. Coal is used as a fuel as such in homes and in industry, or it is used to generate electricity at Thermal Power Plants. Petroleum products such as petrol and diesel are used as fuels in transport to run scooters, motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, trains, ships and aeroplanes.
Kerosene and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) obtained from petroleum are used as domestic fuels for cooking food, etc. Since the industrial revolution, we have been using increasing amounts of energy to meet our basic needs (like cooking food) and for the manufacture of goods upon which our life depends. All these energy needs have so far been met mostly by coal and petroleum reserves of the earth.
Coal and Petroleum in the Earth are Limited
Coal and petroleum were formed from the degradation of biomass of plants and animals respectively, buried deep under the earth millions of years ago. We obtain coal from the ‘coal mines’ dug into the earth and petroleum is obtained by digging ‘oil wells’ deep in the earth. The crude petroleum oil obtained from
oil wells is then separated into fuels such as LPG, petrol, diesel and kerosene. We have been using coal and petroleum resources at such a rapid rate in the past that they will get exhausted in the near future. It has been estimated that at the present rate of consumption, the known petroleum reserves of the earth will last us for just about 40 years more and the coal will last for about another 200 years only.
Once exhausted, coal and petroleum will not be available to us in near future (because they are formed extremely slowly over a very, very long time). It is, therefore, necessary to conserve (or save) coal and petroleum resources of the earth by reducing their consumption so that they may last for as long as possible.
Steps to Reduce the Consumption of Coal and Petroleum
Coal is used mainly to produce electricity. So, if we can save electricity, then the consumption of coal will be automatically reduced. Similarly, the petroleum products kerosene and LPG are used for cooking food, and petrol and diesel are used as fuel in motor vehicles, so if we can save on kerosene, LPG, petrol and diesel, then the consumption of petroleum will also get reduced. Some of the steps which can be taken to conserve energy resources (like coal and petroleum) are as follows :
1. Switch off the lights, fans, television and other electrical appliances when not needed. This will save a lot of electricity.
2. Use energy efficient electrical appliances to save electricity. This can be done by using Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) and fluorescent tube-lights instead of traditional filament-type electric bulbs (because CFL and tube-lights consume much less electric energy as compared to filament-type electric bulbs for producing the same amount of light).
3. Use stairs to climb at least up to three floors of a building instead of taking a lift. This will save electricity.
4. Pressure cookers should be used for cooking food to save fuels like kerosene and LPG.
5. Good quality stoves should be used to burn fuels like kerosene and cooking gas (LPG) so as to obtain maximum heat.
6. Solar cookers should be used to cook food whenever possible.
7. The use of biogas as domestic fuel should be encouraged in rural areas.
8. Bicycles should be used for covering short distances to save precious fuel like petrol (which is used in cars, scooters and motorcycles).
9. Public transport system (local bus and train service) in the cities should be improved so that people do not commute in their personal vehicles. This will save a lot of petrol and diesel.
10. Fuel efficient engines of motor vehicles should be designed to reduce the consumption of petrol and diesel.
Pollution Caused by Burning Coal and Petroleum Based Fuels
Since coal and petroleum have been formed from biomass (plant and animal material), therefore, in addition to carbon and hydrogen, they also contain nitrogen and sulphur elements. When coal, and petroleum based fuels (like petrol and diesel) are burnt, the products of combustion are : Carbon dioxide, Water, Sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen oxides.
And if combustion takes place in an insufficient supply of air (or oxygen), then some carbon monoxide is also produced. Out of all the products of combustion of these fuels, only water is harmless and does not affect the environment. All other products are harmful and hence pollute the environment. For example :
(i) Sulphur dioxide attacks the lungs causing bronchitis and other diseases. Sulphur dioxide also dissolves in rainwater making it acidic. The acid rain thus produced damages trees, plants, aquatic organisms, buildings and metal structures.
(ii) Just like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides attack the breathing system and also cause acid rain.
(iii) Carbon monoxide is a very poisonous gas. If carbon monoxide gets into our blood stream, it stops red blood cells from carrying oxygen from lungs to the rest of the body causing suffocation. Too much carbon monoxide causes death.
(iv) Though carbon dioxide is not a poisonous gas but it is a greenhouse gas which traps sun’s heat energy falling on the earth. The burning of more and more of fossil fuels is increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing increased greenhouse effect leading to global warming.
From the above discussion we conclude that : We need to use fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) judiciously because :
- fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) left in the earth are limited which will get exhausted soon, and
- the products of combustion of fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) pollute the environment.
The three R’s to Save the Environment
The excessive and indiscriminate use of various types of natural resources is spoiling our healthy environment day by day. We can save our environment by practising three R’s : Reduce, Recycle and Reuse. This is explained below.
Reduce means that we use less of the natural resources by cutting down on those practices which lead to their wastage. For example, we can reduce the wastage of electricity by switching off unnecessary lights and fans. Saving electricity means that we are reducing the use of coal (because coal is used to produce electricity). We can reduce the wastage of water by repairing the leaking taps.
We can reduce the use of LPG by making use of solar cooker for cooking food. We can reduce the use of petrol by walking or cycling for short distances. And we can reduce the use of water resources and fertilisers by preventing the wastage of food (because a lot of water and fertilisers are utilised for the production of food).
Recycling means that we should collect the used and discarded items of paper, plastic, glass and metals, and send them to the respective industries for making fresh paper, plastic, glass or metal objects.
In order to recycle materials, we should first segregate (separate) our domestic wastes properly so that the materials which can be recycled do not get dumped alongwith other household wastes which are to be thrown away.
Reuse means that, if possible, we should use the same things again. For example, the plastic jars in which we buy various food items like jams and pickles, etc., can be used later on for storing things like salt, spices, sugar, tea-leaves and pulses, etc. And paper envelopes can be reversed inside out and used again. The process of ‘reuse’ is better than that of ‘recycling’ because some energy is used to recycle old objects but no energy is required during reuse. The items which can be reused are, however, very limited.