Last edited 07 Feb 2020

Fossil fuel

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Fossil fuels are types of non-renewable fuels formed by over millions of years by the anaerobic decomposition of organisms buried beneath or within soil and rock. They are considered to be non-renewable because the rate at which they are currently consumed is far in excess of the rate at which they are naturally replaced, and so they are being rapidly depleted.

Fossil fuels include:

Fossil fuels, contain energy that originated in photosynthesis. They can be burnt in air, or oxygen, to provide heat, which can be used directly, or converted into energy such as electricity. The Industrial Revolution drastically increased the consumption of fossil fuels to the contemporaneous point where levels are widely considered to be unsustainable, hence the drive for large-scale up-take of renewable energy sources.

Types of fossil fuel extraction, such as shale gas, have intensified the debate over whether or not modern and intensive methods should be employed for the further exploitation of non-renewable energy sources.

Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide (and other pollutants) which is a greenhouse gas and so contributes to climate change.

NB Climate Emergency Design Guide: How new buildings can meet UK climate change targets, published by the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) in January 2020, defines a fossil fuel as: 'A natural fuel such as petroleum, coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms. The burning of fossil fuels by humans is the largest source of emissions of carbon dioxide, which is one of the greenhouse gases that allows radiative forcing and contributes to global warming.'

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