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Science

Fuels for power

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The heat energy for power stations comes from a variety of sources. Some of these are non-renewable, such as oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear fuels. Others are renewable, such as wood, straw and manure.

The cost of electricity depends on the power rating of the appliance used, how long it is used for, and the price of a unit of electricity.

Fuels for power stations

The common fuels used in power stations include:

  • fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas)
  • nuclear fuels (uranium and, sometimes, plutonium)
  • renewable biomass (wood, straw and manure).

Each type of fuels has advantages and disadvantages.

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy resources. Their supply is limited and they will eventually run out. Fossil fuels cannot be replaced once they have been used up.

Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide when they burn, which adds to the greenhouse effect and increases global warming. Of the three fossil fuels, for a given amount of energy released, coal produces the most carbon dioxide and natural gas produces the least.

Coal and oil release sulfur dioxide gas when they burn, which causes breathing problems for living creatures and contributes to acid rain.

Nuclear fuels

Like fossil fuels, nuclear fuels are non-renewable energy resources. If there is an accident, large amounts of radioactive material could be released into the environment. In addition, nuclear waste remains radioactive and is hazardous to health for thousands of years. It must be stored safely.

Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear fuels do not produce carbon dioxide or sulfur dioxide when they are used.

Renewable biomass

Wood, straw and manure are cheap and a readily available source of energy. If trees and crops crops are replaced, biomass can be a long-term, sustainable energy source. However, a lot of land would be needed to produce enough biomass to replace the fossil fuels and nuclear fuels used around the world.

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