Fossil Fuels: Photosynthesis and Energy 

Energy is very important and plays a substantial role in life itself, but where does energy come from and how does energy work? Of course, the answer is simple; Photosynthesis. With this reading you will learn what photosynthesis is and how photosynthesis works as well as the energy it creates and how energy is stored and used. Finally, you will learn about different types of energy and the types of benefits those energy sources have.

The process of photosynthesis begins when a simple plant receives carbon dioxide from the surrounding atmosphere which humans and animals output to inhale oxygen. Once water reaches the plants it is transferred from the leaves to the stem which eventually will be united with sunlight. The green color of the leaf; which is also known as chlorophyll traps energy. Finally, the energy that was delivered by the sun transfigures the water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. (‘A Step-by-step Guide to Understand the Process of Photosynthesis’ 2018)

When the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are released the hydrogen combines with the carbon dioxide to make food for plants whereas the oxygen molecule is discarded. The oxygen molecules that are discarded happen to be very beneficial to any living organism who need oxygen to survive. As far as surviving goes we as humans need oxygen to survive as well as energy, and photosynthesis give food or energy to the plants but how does that help us as humans? There is a sort of cycle; the plants get energy which is also then transferred to humans through consuming plants or that of an animal that also eats the plant for energy which is how said energy reaches humans. (‘A Step-by-step Guide to Understand the Process of Photosynthesis’ 2018)

Energy that we get from food goes into our body and it fuels our cells so that they are able to generate and maintain their biological order to stay alive. In order for our cells to pull energy from the food we eat it has to break down certain molecules like proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides into smaller molecules which are broken down during digestion. These molecules are broken down into their subunits; Proteins are broken down in to amino acids, polysaccharides are broken down into sugars, and fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol. After the molecules have been broken down any sugar molecules are converted to pyruvate molecules; during this conversion two different types of activated carrier molecules are produced which are adenosine triphosphate also known as ATP and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide also known as NADH. With the production of ATP the energy from the breakdown of sugars and fats are redistributed as energy in a form that is more convenient for use elsewhere in the body. (Alberts 1970)

There are five different ways that energy can be stored in the body such as ATP, Creatine phosphate also known as PCr, glycogen, fat, and proteins. When it comes to Muscle contraction your body will use ATP which is stored In the muscle itself and liver, but once that energy is used it needs be replaced and that is where PCr comes into play. Creatine phosphate’s main job is to repair the ATP that was already used unfortunately there is only enough PCr in the body to last a couple seconds; a good example of this would be if you’re running and you use what seems to be your last it of energy at the end to sprint to the finish line. One both of these energies are depleted the body has to replace these using their main source which is carbohydrates. Glycogen which is also know as your blood sugar is stored in the blood and liver but it is used in the muscle. Fat is your body’s emergency energy storage, but it needs oxygen to be converted and it is slower to refill when used. Protein does not store as a free source in the body it is used in the muscles, it is also used more for muscle repair than anything else. (‘Energy storage in the body’ 2012)

There are plenty of different sources we use today to power certain things like our cars or other vital parts of our lives; for example, fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are remains of dead animals or plants that the earth over millions of years has buried under dirt and rocks, and the dirt and rock and heat from the inside of the earth along with the pressure from being buried changes these now fossils into a sort of oil, natural gas or even coal. Now because these fossil fuels are down for millions of years it takes a very substantial amount of time for new fossil fuels like oils, coals, or gases to be formed, so these sourced cannot be renewed which is why they are called non renewable fuels. Once all these nonrenewable energy is all used it is gone for good, and currently in this day and age we are using fuels that were made about sixty-five million years ago. (‘What are Fossil Fuels?’ 2015)

As I stated before there are three main sources of fossil fuels which are coal, oil, and natural gases. Coal is mainly used in power plants and is generously located in Canada and also in the northern United States. There are two different places coal can be found, one is located closer to earths surface which are known as strip mines and in mines that are buried deep below the surface of the earth. These power plants that use coals as an energy source get the turbines to move by during coal and making steam , the steam then makes the turbines turn and thus the energy that follows. Another way of using coal is called Coal Coke, which is what you get by baking coal in furnaces; steel mills use this method to smelt iron into making steel. The higher temperatures needed for this method helps the steel become more flexible to make bridges and other structures. (‘What are Fossil Fuels?’ 2015)(‘Use of Coal’ 2018)

The next source of energy that we get from fossil fuels is oil or petroleum, this source is found in deposits below the earths surface. Companies that require this oil or petroleum need to use drills to reach these deposits; the oil is then pumped from below using the oil rigs. Once the oil has been acquired it must be refined so it can be split up into different products we use on a daily basis. The crude black oil that get drilled from below the earths surface is split up for different products by being heated.These products that the oil is turned into can vary between gasoline, diesel fuel and, other fuels to toothbrushes and plastic bottles. (‘What are Fossil Fuels?’ 2015)

The final source of energy that is provided by fossil fuels are Natural gases. Natural gasses are made up of highly flammable gas we know as methane, which is made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms; Natural gasses are also extremely light compared the the air that we breathe. These gases are located close to underground petroleum deposits, the most effective way of getting the natural gases is by pumping it from below the surface and send it through a pipeline system. Natural gases are used all over the world aside from Bermuda because it isn’t considered economical to transport these natural gases through pipelines; however, the united states is able to safely ship propane gas to Bermuda because it is easier to transport under high pressure. (‘What are Fossil Fuels?’ 2015)

The advantages of fossil fuels are easily put we as humans don’t have a hard time finding or refining the product that is used to make oil. Fossil fuels are far more energy dense than that of bio fuels or electricity, but of course with the advantages there is always a downside. The disadvantages of fossil Fuels are the very limited supply we have means that we will run out of them eventually. With the source running limited this means that eventually prices for the products will skyrocket and eventually they wont even be here. (‘The Chemistry of Biofuels’ 2010)

Another source of energy that we use on an everyday basis are Biofuels; These fuels are made from biological matter such as trees, agricultural wastes, crops, or grass. Biofuels are produced from all sorts of carbon sources that can be reproduced rapidly, and the best example for that are plants. These fuels don’t contain any sulfur and give off low carbon monoxide and toxic emissions, and they are also a substitute for fossil fuels. Biofuels Can increase energy security and reduces greenhouse gasses by providing an alternative to fossil fuels. To more understand biofuels we must also understand the history of it. (‘What are Biofuels?”)

Biofuels have been around since the early 1800s; at this time period camphene and alcohol was the most common fuel used for lamps. Although Biofuels were definitely a viable source of energy they didn’t become common until around the 1990s. Samuel Morey was one of the first people to run an internal combustion engine using alcohol which occurred in 1826; shortly after the first otto-cycle to run using ethanol infused alcohol was created by Nicklaus Otto in 1860. At the time of the civil war alcohol was being taxed so heavily that the use of fossil fuels become much more common than that of biofuels. The tax hike on alcohol was soon repealed by President Roosevelt to make ethanol more competitive. (‘What are Biofuels?”)

As I pointed out previously Biofuels are made from plant or animal products, but how you may ask? Some products of biofuel start by extracting sugars or starch from crops and begin the fermenting process to make the alcohol that is needed. Of course other biofuels are made from the decaying of animals and plants and catching the gasses that result from the decaying animals or plants. As I continue you must know that there are three different generations of biofuels; the first generation is produced only from food crops, the second generations are called advanced biofuels, and the third generations is refers from biofuels made from algae. (‘The Chemistry of Biofuels’ 2010)

The first generation of biofuels contains products that are directly produced from crop foods such as corn, sugar cane, soybeans, and vegetable oil. Corn is most certainly the most used for the worlds supply of ethanol and most of that corn used comes from the United States; sugar cane falls in as a close second when it comes to primary source for production of ethanol. Second generation Biofuels are a little harder to explain the difference between first and second generation biofuels is that the feedstock for second generation biofuels are not used for food crops; for example, waste vegetable oil would be considered a second generation biofuel because it was already used as a food source and is no longer needed. The third generation biofuels are fuels produced by algae, the list of fuels that can be made from algae is astounding. Algae can produce fuels like biodiesel, butanol, gasoline, methane, ethanol, vegetable oil, and jet fuel. On top of the long list of fuels that algae can make it can also product outstanding yields; Numbers like 9,000 gallons of biofuel per acre. (“The Chemistry of Biofuels’ 2010)

The advantages of biofuels are unlike fossil fuels they are a renewable energy source because crops or algae are used it can be considered an unlimited resource. Biofuels can be more friendly to our environment if they are produced in a carefully manner; if biofuels are produced in the correct way they can reduce greenhouse gasses. These fuels are much safer than fossil fuels because biofuels are biological molecules this means the are biodegradable. Another advantage of biofuels is it can be made completely sulfur free so there is no side effect like acid rain that you get with fossil fuels when burning coal. (‘The Chemistry of Biofuels’ 2010)

The disadvantages of biofuels are that they are now being grown regionally because some plants and crops just grow better in more suitable climates than others so we cant grow everything right where we need it. Also when watering plants the less we need the better because water is very limited so growing plants or crops in the right regions makes it much easier for the plant to survive on what little water may be given if its in the perfect climate. There is only so many places that crops can be grown and of course feedstock is a major player in the game of bio fuels. Burning biofuels contributes to global warming because they are mostly made up of carbon and hydrogen molecules and produce carbon dioxide. Biofuels are among the promising replacements for fossil fuels unfortunately they are not a permanent fix they will only slow global warming not stop or reverse it. (‘The Chemistry of Biofuels’ 2010)

In conclusion, there are so many factors that go into energy and our lives and how life on earth would be a much different place if we didn’t have these sources of energy. Something as tines sunlight and photosynthesis simply giving us oxygen that we need to survive is mind blowing, and not only do these plants and sunlight give us oxygen but they also give us energy to go about our everyday lives. Learning the difference between fossil fuels and Biofuels and what products are used to make these fuels and all the different types of fuels we use in this day and age that are provided from these two large energy sources as well How many different types of energy we have and all the different uses for them and where in the body and how they are stored. Not only is is mind-blowing to learn all these different processes that I thought I already knew but to delve deep and learn more than I thought I would is fascinating.

References

  1. “A Step-by-Step Guide to Understand the Process of Photosynthesis.” BiologyWise, BiologyWise, 16 May 2018, biologywise.com/process-of-photosynthesis.
  2. Alberts, Bruce. “How Cells Obtain Energy from Food.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26882/.
  3. “Energy Storage in the Body.” LoneSwimmer, 1 Oct. 2012, loneswimmer.com/2011/03/01/energy-storage-in-the-body/.
  4. “What Are Fossil Fuels?” What Is Electricity?, 2015, belco.bm/index.php/education-86/what-are-fossil-fuels.
  5. “Use of Coal.” Factors Affecting Gasoline Prices – Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy – Energy Information Administration, 13 July 2018, www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.php?page=coal_use.
  6. “What Are Biofuels?” Biofuels – Creative Discovery Museum, learnbiofuels.org/what-are-biofuels.
  7. “The Chemistry of Biofuels.” Biofuel.org.uk, 2010, biofuel.org.uk/chemistry-of-biofuels.html.