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Fossil Fuel Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Fossil fuel is old, like a fossil. Fossil fuel is the decomposed remains of plants and animals that have been converted to fuel. Learn why fossil fuels are a type of nonrenewable energy, and what happens when they're burned.

What Are Fossil Fuels?

When you think of fossils, you might think of a scientist digging in the desert to uncover the remains of once-living things buried underground. Fossil fuels are also found in the ground. They are the decomposed remains of living organisms that have been changed into a type of energy that we can use to power our lives.

coal is an example of a fossil fuel
coal

Changing plant and animal matter into a fossil fuel is a slow and difficult process. It can take millions of years and require large amounts of heat and pressure to make the change. Because it takes so long for fossil fuels to be created, they are considered a type of nonrenewable energy (they can't be renewed once they are used up).

Types of Fossil Fuels

Examples of fossil fuel include oil, coal and natural gas. These substances can be pumped or mined from the ground, and converted into usable energy.

natural gas is taken out of the ground by a process called fracking
natural gas

Oil can be refined to make gasoline that gets pumped into a car or truck. Oil, coal and natural gas can all be used to generate electricity that's used to turn on lights and power homes and businesses.

Fossil fuels contain the elements hydrogen and carbon, so we call them hydrocarbons. All living things are made of carbon, including the once-living plant and animal matter that decomposed to make fossil fuels. It's crazy to think that the electricity you use when you turn on the lights was a living plant or animal millions of years ago!

an oil pump pulls oil out of the ground
oil

Greenhouse Gases

The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases are gases found in the Earth's atmosphere that trap heat. They work somewhat like a greenhouse that you might see at a plant store.

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