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Chemistry - Fuels and Pollution (AQA Syllabus A)

Crude oil and other sources of fuel is one of the topics studied in GCSE Science. This is the third of six quizzes on that subject and it looks specifically at the pollution caused by fuels.

We have the Industrial Revolution to thank for the quality of life that we enjoy today. If it wasn't for fossil fuels, the Industrial Revolution would probably not have happened. Before the Industrial Revolution, charcoal was the main fuel. It is made by heating wood in conditions of low oxygen. As the Industrial Revolution got underway, more and more coal was needed to fuel steam engines and furnaces. The development of factories and improvements to the steam engines caused further increase in the demand for coal. In the middle of the 19th Century, oil lamps were still powered by whale oil which was very expensive. In Derbyshie, a scientist discovered how to distil a substitute, kerosene.

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About 10 years later, people started drilling for oil in Texas, USA, and found plenty. Fractional distillation of this crude oil revealed many other chemicals that could be used as fuels and it wasn't long until the first engines were made that burnt the petrol, or gasoline, fraction. Later, engines that ran on other fractions were developed, including the jet engine.

Crude oil and coal are both formed from ancient biomasses found in rocks. Coal formed from trees and plants that grew in swampy warm forests and crude oil formed from the remains of dead sea plants and sea creatures. Since they were formed millions of years ago, they are called fossil fuels.

Pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels has been recognised for some time. Here in the 21st Century, we still use coal and fuels from oil but have also begun to develop biofuels. Biofuels are produced from plant material and by allowing plants and animal dung to rot down, producing 'biogas'. They are therefore potentially renewable. But whatever the source of our fuels, they create pollution. Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide that has been locked away for millions of years. Many scientists believe that this is creating problems with our climate and causing global warming.

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  1. One of the pollutants from burning fossil fuels is carbon dioxide. To which of the following environmental issues does it contribute?
    Levels of CO2 have risen sharply since the second world war
  2. What are biofuels?
    Biofuels can be made from plants or plant and animal waste as it rots down producing methane gas
  3. Why is carbon dioxide from fossil fuels a particular issue?
    This upsets the balance as the number of plants living on the Earth cannot remove it as fast as it is being added. Too much CO2 in the air could lead to a 'runaway' greenhouse effect which would kill off most of the life on Earth
  4. Why is burning biofuels less of a problem than burning fossil fuels?
    Although burning biofuels does release carbon dioxide, burning them is 'carbon neutral' because the amount of carbon dioxide released when they are used is the same as the amount absorbed by the plants as they grew. But they are not quite carbon neutral overall as fossil fuels need to be burned in order to grow and make them
  5. Which one of the following could be an ethical argument against growing plants for biofuels?
    Land that could be used to grow food crops might be used to provide the raw materials for biofuels instead
  6. Which impurity in fuels causes acid rain when it burns?
    This burns to form sulfur dioxide. Low sulfur fuel is available at many petrol stations, especially in big cities where there are lots of cars
  7. Which of the following is a balanced equation that shows how sulfur dioxide is formed?
    This type of question tests if you can get a formula from the name of a chemical and recognise a balanced equation
  8. Apart from sulfur, what else from burning fuels is a major contributor to acid rain?
    At the high temperatures inside vehicle engines, even the normally unreactive nitrogen is converted to nitrogen oxides. These are highly acidic
  9. Which of the following might be directly caused by burning fuels?
    Many of the gases produced by burning fuels are irritants to the lungs
  10. Which of the following products of burning fuels could be responsible for global dimming?
    These particles reflect some of the Sun's heat back into space, reducing the apparent effects of global warming. You might see this as a good thing but what happens when laws to reduce the amount of this type of pollution take effect?

Author: Kev Woodward

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