From Fossil to Fuel
Watch a plant fossil transform into the living plant as it was over 200 million years ago. Reverse the process to see how plants formed layered fossils that over millions of years turn into coal
The first plants on land probably appeared on Earth around 470 million years ago. Fossils show that the plants that evolved hundreds of millions of years ago looked very much like the plants
we recognise today. The seas would have been full of all kinds of fish and animals such as ammonites and early, primitive sharks. Many of the plants and animals alive at this time became the coal and oil that we burn today.
Although coal has been burnt as a fuel for thousands of years, it helped change the world during the Industrial Revolution when coal was burned to power the steam engines and factories in the early 19th Century. Coal is formed out of layers of fossilised plants that died around 300 million years ago. The carbon dioxide (CO₂) that the plants absorbed was trapped inside the structure of the plants. When we burn coal the carbon dioxide (CO₂) is released into the air which warms the planet.
Oil is made up of the tiny creatures (organisms) and algae that lived millions of years ago in the sea that died and slowly fell to the soft seabed called silt. Over millions of years, the silt became rock and the fossilised remains became oil. Like coal, the carbon dioxide (CO₂) absorbed by the prehistoric organisms is released when we burn it, warming our atmosphere. Oil is also used to make the plastics that are everywhere, taking many years to break down once we have used them.