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A brief history of fuel

2 mya

3,500 BC

2,500 BC

First known use of fuel by our ancestors Homo Erectus, using sticks and wood to
make fire
First definite evidence of mans involvement with charcoal as a
fuel, found in Southern Europe and the Middle East.
Charcoal is a carbon compound that remains after wood or animal
products have been burnt in the absence of oxygen (eg: a kiln)
First definite evidence of coal burning in China. Coal was used for
cooking and heating
Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock, essentially it is a mineral of
fossilised carbon. This can be made from pressurised organic matter (like
plants and animals)

2,000 BC

1 AD

By the commencement of the Bronze Age in Britain, the use of charcoal

was common place. Charcoal was able to burn at much higher
temperatures, over 1000 C in a forge, and could smelt tin and copper
together to produce bronze.
Bronze was a highly versatile metal. It sets much harder than copper and
was easier to cast, making it useful for swords, axes, tools, and jewelry.
China first collects and refines petroleum for fuel for lamps using oil wells
Petroleum is a naturally occurring liquid made up of multiple hydrocarbon
molecules that is refined for different properties. Burning hydrocarbons can
generate much more energy than regular carbon fuels (like charcoal).

200 AD

1000 AD

Europeans build wheels in rivers and streams to harness water as an energy

Water wheels are fixed to a building and catch free-flowing water in multiple
troughs. The force of the water turns the wheel, which is connected to a
shaft that can powers a whole variety of systems (eg: flour grinding)
Persians build first windmills to use as an energy source
Windmills transfer the energy from the wind into rotational energy. The
windmill was used for mostly agricultural processes including the milling of
grains (hence the mill in its name)


British discover how to cook coal to transform it into hot-burning coke.

This becomes a major fuel for the 18th, 19th and 20th century industry
Coke has a higher carbon content than coal meaning it can burn for
longer and at higher temperatures


Invention of pumps to remove water from mines makes intensive coal

mining possible. Vast deposits discovered in eastern North America.
Coal begins to replace other fuels as civilizations main energy source.


First natural gas well is drilled in Fredonia, New York.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, comprising mostly of methane- made from
pressurised organic matter.


Based on British scientist Michael Faradays discoveries about

electromagnetism, the electric generator, motor and relay are


First oil well drilled in Titsuville, Pa.

Oil wells bore deep into the Earths crust to bring petroleum oil to the






Frances Auguste Mouchout builds first solar energy generator, using a

mirror to focus sunlight to make steam

Nikola Tesla invents the alternating current (AC) system of electrical

generation, which becomes the standard as nations across the world
are wired in the late 19th and 20th centuries
First use of geothermal energy to heat buildings in Boise, Idaho.
Geothermal energy is the harnessing of thermal energy generated and
stored within the earth. The heat in the Earths crust comes from its hot
core, and radioactive decay of elements within the earth.
The first nuclear power plants are built in Obninsk, USSR and in
Shippingport, Pa. Eventually, nuclear plants will supply nearly 20% of
electricity within the U.S.A.
Nuclear energy uses the process of nuclear fission, where unstable
radioactive elements decay, producing energy.
Scientists begin to amass evidence that burning of fossil fuels is driving
potentially catastrophic global climate change
Also, the U.S oil production begins to dwindle and relies on Arab
countries for oil, driving prices higher


Global oil production peaks at 70 billion barrels a day in 2006 and is expected to drop
sharply in coming decades
As energy producers employ increasingly complicated methods to tap difficult-to-reach fossil
fuel reserves, politicians and the public debate how to deal with climate change, and
increasing energy consumption by fast-developing nations like China and India threatens to
create future shortages.

Since were running out of fossil fuels, and can see the destructive nature of using
these sources, theres been an increase in efforts to develop and use alternative
energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy.
Renewable energies have a minimum impact on the environment, and harness
natural forces which we have an infinite supply of.
However, due to economic factors many are reluctant to embrace these new
technologies. With more investment for research and development, these costs will
drop and we can utilise these sustainable energy sources

Sources: , Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911).
"Fuel". Encyclopdia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press, International Energy Annual 2006. Energy Information
Administration. 2008. Archived from the original, Salway, Peter (2001). A History of Roman Britain. Oxford University
Press. ISBN 0-19-280138-4.