Fossil Fuels

The Cambridge dictionary defines fossil fuels as “fuels, such as gas, coal, and oil, that were formed underground from plant and animal remains millions of years ago”. Any fossil fuel is composed of hydrocarbons, hydrogen and carbon.

For many decades, humans have been using fossil fuels for many purposes as heating, travelling, clothe themselves, manufacturing or to produce electricity that sustained most of the economic activity. As illustrated in the Oil refining tower infographic below, oil by-products are obtained in the refining process of crude oil barrels. The first by-product from the refining process is bitumen, which is mainly used to asphalt roads, so we can easily circulate through it with our means of transport. The latter use other by-products such as Gas Oils or Naftas. Naftas are also used in many fibres, which once transformed make many consumers happy with the new clothes or the plastic components used in many gadgets, tools or other products. These are so present in our daily life that with our current lifestyle and the current technological developments, would be very challenging to live without them. Fuel Oils are often used not only by maritime transport but also in waxes or oils that once transformed make our homes smell better. What would be of the barbecues or camping cooking if LPG wasn’t made available? The lifestyle of many has been hugely sustained by fossil fuels.

Oil refining tower with its by-products and examples of respectve purposes.
Edited from Wermac and Bismarck State College National Energy Center of Excellence’s illustration

The graphic below illustrates that very well. According to IEA data, oil products consumption has increased by 56% between 1990 and 2018, coal by 32% and natural gas by 71%. Transport is the sector that mostly uses fossil fuels. As technologies evolved, manufacturing processes improved, population grew and average wages increased along with available cheaper travelling, transport use has consequently increased and so have oil products for such purpose, 79% between 1990 and 2018. Coal and natural gas have been heavily used for electricity generation, which underpinned economic activity.

This graphic shows fossil fuel consumption between 1990 and 2018 as well as the main sectors in which oil by-products and electricity has been consumed.
my own elaboration with IEA data

As I wrote in my first article, Beginning, emissions have increased quite substantially in the Anthropocene, the period we’re currently living in that started with the First Industrial revolution, when economic activity and growth accelerated.

However, it is no longer sustainable to grow with fossil fuels support. Our Planet is telling us in many ways. Each year has been recorded as the hottest year, the number of floods and cyclones is increasing and the number of days with snow is decreasing. Global warming needs to be limited.

Clean energy technology development and adoption has contributed to the increase of renewable electricity in the energy mix, as shown in my last article, Renewable Energy in 2020. The corporate action has fostered green investments, mainly in the last quinquennium, not only to support their direct activity but also of its suppliers. There has been a transformation in the way many companies design and produce its products as well as in the delivery method. But many more need to accompany such transformation. The sooner the better!

We need to learn from the past and look into the future adopting new and more sustainable behaviours. But we all need to do so. Aren’t we all in this Planet together? If we manage to limit global warming to 1.5ºC our life will be more sustainable, being also healthier.

1 Comment on “Fossil Fuels

  1. Just read that General Motors announced yesterday its commitment to be Carbon Neutral by 2040 on its operations and products, replacing all its ICE vehicles by EV! A great step by GM in reducing not only its GHG emissions but also of its customers.


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