Fossil fuels.
Extraction of oil

Thermal Power Plant Cercs. Catalonia

Treatment of fossil fuels

Thermal energy and combustion.
Effects of thermodynamics

Fossil Energy

Fossil energy

Fossil energy is energy that comes from the combustion of fossil fuels.

It is a non-renewable energy source because it is not an inexhaustible energy source nor does it regenerate at the same rate at which it is consumed.

Fossil fuels are formed from organic substances that have accumulated in the earth's subsoil. These substances can be remains of plants, animals and other living things. Over the years, millions of years, they undergo certain physical and chemical transformations until they reach the point where they become components of which it is easy to convert them into energy: fossil energy.

Types of fossil energy

The different types of fossil energy are determined by the type of fossil fuel in question. We differentiate three main types of fossil energy:

  • The one that comes from coal.
  • Petroleum derivatives.
  • Natural gas.


    Coal was the first major fossil fuel to be used in industry, especially. Coal was the fuel that allowed the industrial revolution.

    Coal mine, fossil energy sourceCarbon is formed by decomposing plant matter. The pressure and temperature to which the organic particles in the underground layers are subjected cause them to transform into coal.


    Oil has an oily liquid texture. It is generated by marine debris that remains deposited at the bottom of the sea. Due to the pressure and temperatures to which they are subjected, over the years, they transform into oil.

    Many derivatives can be extracted from oil to take advantage of its fossil energy. In the refineries, the oil is transformed to obtain gasoline, diesel, and even gases such as propane and butane.

    Because, precisely because gasoline is a derivative of petroleum, cars and thermal engines in general, are machines that use fossil energy for their operation.

    Natural gas

    Natural gas is made of methane. This corresponds to the light fraction of hydrocarbons. It is extracted from the underground layers in the form of gas.

    Why is the use of fossil fuels so widespread?

    Fossil fuels use a type of fuel that is limited. It is therefore a type of non- renewable energy in the medium term (or long term from the human point of view).

    It is also a type of polluting energy, which generates gases that promote the greenhouse effect and damage the ozone layer.

    So why is the use of fossil energy so widespread?

    The explanation goes back precisely to the beginning of the industrial revolution. Back then, the main thing was to improve production and lower costs. The use of fossil fuels allowed both, the price of coal was not very high and allowed to build machines that improved production and saved costs in wages.

    There were large quantities of coal, and at first it seemed inexhaustible. Little by little the number of machines using fossil fuels has grown to the point that it is difficult to change this dynamic.

    From an environmental point of view, at the time the first machines were developed, you did not have the ecological awareness that you have now. The environmental problems were also not the same, since it was not known that the derived gases would affect the ozone layer or the greenhouse effect.

    What is the impact of fossil fuels?

    Carbon dioxide emissions

    Fossil fuels generate emissions of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ), a greenhouse gas that has been stored in the atmosphere for centuries and that most contributes to global warming and climate change.

    Climate studies warn of the linear relationship between the magnitude of global warming and the amount of carbon dioxide accumulated in the atmosphere. To limit global warming it is necessary to establish a limit for future total CO 2 emissions  , which represents the final total global resource.

    At the same time, global financial markets largely ignore the need to limit CO 2 emissions . The extraction of fossil fuels continues to be subsidized by the governments of many countries, large funds continue to be spent on the exploration of new reserves. Investors are inclined to believe that all stocks of carbon raw materials can become subject to extraction and commercial use.

    The role of natural gas emissions 

    Natural gas, most of which is methane, is also a greenhouse gas. The greenhouse effect of a methane molecule is approximately 20-25 times stronger than that of the CO 2 molecule , therefore, from a climatic point of view, the burning of natural gas is preferable to its release into the atmosphere.


    Published: April 3, 2017
    Last review: April 12, 2020