Fossil Fuels
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Fossil Fuels

The term fossil fuel is used to describe the broad set of fuels “formed in the earth from plant or animal remains” that have been transformed into raw energy sources over the course of many years as a result of geological processes(Fossil Fuel, n.d.).  In effect, fossil fuels are the repositories of millions of years of energy that has been accumulated and shaped into a concentrated form. They are a finite resource that humans were fortunate to discover but likely they will probably not encounter again (Parfit, 2005).

Source: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Library/CarbonCycle/carbon_cycle4.html

Fossil fuels come in three main forms: petroleum, or crude oil; coal; and natural gas. All have many uses, but each serves one main purpose. Crude oil is refined predominantly to make gasoline for transportation purposes, while most coal is burned by utilities to produce electricity. Natural gas, not covered in this brief because of space limitations, is mainly funneled to industrial sites and factories, though a sizable percentage makes its way into homes for residential heating (EIA, History of Energy in the United States: 1635-2000 – Petroleum, Natural Gas, Coal, 2001).

Coal has long been used as an energy source and was the hallmark fuel of the Industrial Revolution. dIt replaced more traditional sources such as wood (the original biomass, or biofuel) and water power (harnessed by mills). The origins of petroleum as an energy source also date from the middle of the nineteenth century, though it did not really come into its own until the automobile became popular in the United States in the 1910s and 1920s. Oil finally overtook coal as the nation’s leading energy source in the early 1950s. Most early oil exploration occurred in North America, though major deposits were quickly discovered in the Middle East (EIA, History of Energy in the United States: 1635-2000 – Petroleum, Coal, 2001).

In 2011, fossil fuels accounted for approximately 82 percent of the world’s primary energy use, but this is expected to fall to 78 percent by 2040, meaning that the use of fossil fuels is expected to be on a decline (EIA, Monthly Review, 2011).  

The Role of Renewable Energy Consumption in the Nation’s Energy Supply, 2010

Source: http://endofcrudeoil.blogspot.com/2011/06/renewable-energys-share-of.html/

For the United States, in 2010, petroleum products represented 36.2 percent of its fossil fuel mix, coal 21.2 percent, and natural gas 23.8 percent (People and Planet, 2008). Even with the heightened focus on renewable and nuclear power sources, experts predict that fossil fuels will continue to supply the vast majority of the world’s energy needs for much of the next century. Within the fossil fuel group, petroleum products accounted for 33 percent of global consumption, coal for 30 percent, and natural gas for 21 percent in 2011 (MacAlister, 2012) (FAQs Natural Gas, n.d.).

U.S. Fossil Fuel Usage by Sector, 2007

Source: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12710&page=24

 

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