For continuous cycle. When primitive human beingsFor continuous cycle. When primitive human beings

For millions of years, the influence of
life on Earth was fundamentally energy-neutral: flora and fauna coexisted in a
continuous cycle. When primitive human beings discovered how to make fire, this
breakthrough commenced an irreversible shift in nature. Through the discovery
of fire, heat became readily available, cooking meat is achievable, and
predators could be deterred. Since then, the use of heat has developed
tremendously as humankind discovered how to convert heat into electricity, the
most versatile and convenient form of energy. Electricity has facilitated
astonishing advances to be made in science and engineering, transforming
civilizations and making life far more comfortable than that of our predecessors.
However, in the process, it has created a consumer society that treats
electricity and other forms of energy as commodities that should be available
on demand. As a result, the focus on matters such as energy production, energy consumption,
and principally, energy sources, continues to increase as mankind races against
time to research and develop different methods of efficiently meeting these energy
demands.

            The Industrial Revolution marked a
vital turning point in time; not only in terms of advancement as a society, but
as the beginning of an exponential decline in the health of our planet. In the
relatively short period of time since the second half of the 18th
century, a significant fraction of the fossil reserves of the planet that took
hundreds of millions of years to evolve have been significantly depleted; in
one year we consume what took about a millions years to lay down. As a result,
the emission of carbon dioxide and other products of combustion are now having
noticeable impacts on global climate. In our efforts to reverse and mend the negative
effects society has imposed onto our environment, attention has gravitated
towards the use of renewables resources as alternative sources of energy; as opposed
to our conventional use of nonrenewable resources such as fossil fuels. The threat
to life in a moderately near future could be dire unless humankind can rise to
the greatest challenge it has faced since its emergence as a dominant species
on earth.

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            For the past two centuries, society
has remained predominantly dependent on fossil fuels as our main energy source.
Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources that form gradually in the span of millions
of years. Through natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition (a collection
of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the
absence of oxygen) due to the multiple layers of rock burying the dead organism
through time, materials such as coal, oil and natural gas were formed, which
contain energy originating in ancient photosynthesis. Fossil fuels are
categorized as non-renewable resources because they originated from plants and
animals that lived millions of years ago, making them impossible to naturally produce
today. Nonetheless, our supply of fossil fuels is massive as a large percentage
of the earth consisted primarily of steamy swamps surrounded by a thriving
coexistence of vegetation and animals. Today, the dependency on fossil fuels
has a direct relationship with the abundancy of the resource. Presently, fossil
fuel industries mine for these energy sources, burn them to produce
electricity, or refine them for use as a fuel for heating or transportation.

One of the main forms of fossil fuels
used for energy in the United States is coal. Coal is a carbon-rich solid which
originated about 300 million years ago in vast swamps containing large trees
and leafy plants. The remains of this vegetable substance accumulated at the
bottom of these swamps and turned into peat. This peat was then covered by
layers of soil and sandy material over time, exposing the peat to intense heat
and pressure, subsequently driving out the water and transforming it into a
solid rock-like material: coal.2 There is an ample supply of coal in
the United States making it an economically attractive energy source; in fact,
more than one-fourth of the world’s total known coal reserves are located in
the United States.1 In 2015, 33.2% of the United States’ electricity
was produced using coal as its main energy source, which is roughly equal to amount
of electricity produced using natural gas which made up 32.7% of the United
States’ electricity that same year.

Oil and natural gas also originated 300
million years along with coal. Crude oil is derivative of micro-organisms in
the sea that used sunlight to create energy-rich hydrocarbons. The remnants of
these organisms settled on the seabed, forming a dense mud. This mud became
covered by layers of sand and more mud, which was subsequently converted into
sedimentary rock over the years. The rock and heat from Earth’s interior created
intense pressure that eventually converted the mud into a highly viscous oil.
Sweet crude oil is sulfur-free and is the most economic, whereas sour crude oil
contains sulfur, which must be removed. Oil is developed into petrol or
gasoline, jet fuel, fuel oil, diesel oil, asphalt lubricants and kerosene. However,
only a comparatively small fraction of oil is used for electricity production.