Fossil Fuel Power Plants Have Been the Standard Electricity Production for Years
Though unpopular, fossil fuel power plants provide many countries of the world with electricity. These plants generate electricity through the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil or coal. How the fossil fuel is converted into electricity is a complicated process.
How Do Fossil Fuels Get Converted into Electricity?
The first step is that the fossil fuel must make its way from its source to the plant. Some plants are purposefully built next to a source of fossil fuel, but many plants need to have their fuel delivered. The fossil fuels can be delivered by truck, rail, or boat. Often delivery involves a combination of the three. Delivery methods for oil are generally the same as coal, with the exception that it can be transported by pipeline.
Once at the plant, the fossil fuel is burned to generate heat. This heat is used to heat water and create steam. The steam then rises through a turbine which transfers the thermal energy of the steam to mechanical energy. These turbine generators is attached to a generator, and the spinning of the turbine leads to the generation of electricity in the generator.
Waste Products of Fossil Fuel Power Plants
This is a streamlined description of how fossil fuel is turned into electricity. There is much more to how coal fired power plants work, however. For starters, there is the issue of waste products.
The waste from the burning of the fuel is the reason for much of the controversy surrounding fossil fuel power plants. Burning fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is believed to be a factor in global warming. Additionally, the burning of coal releases nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide into the air. When these mix with the atmosphere, they can cause acid rain. The U.S. and Europe have passed stricter emission laws to curb these effects.
Another hazard that has arisen is the effects of particulate matter. Particulate matter, often simply referred to as particulate, is tiny particles suspended in liquid or air. Previously, particulate was released when coal was burned. It would hang around in the air, and become inhaled. This was found to lead to asthma, chronic bronchitis, and airway obstruction. Because of these effects, various methods have been developed to reduce particulate.
The End of Fossil Fuel Power Plants?
While fossil fuel power plants have adapted to these changes, their days may be numbered. With the increased use of wind, solar, and nuclear power, fossil fuels are being phased out.