5.1.3: Fossil Fuel Consumption - Biology

The U.S. and the world overall heavily depend on fossil fuels. In 2019, fossil fuels contributed to 62.6% of electricity generation in the U.S. with coal contributing 23.4% and natural gas contributing 38.4% (table (PageIndex{a})). Note that oil (petroleum) is primary used for transportation and thus only contributes a fraction of a percentage to electricity generation. With respect to total energy consumption, the world continues to rely on crude oil more than any other energy source (33.1%) followed by coal (27%) and natural gas (24.3%; figure(PageIndex{a})).

Table (PageIndex{a}): Contribution of Each Energy Source to Electricity Generation in the U.S. in 2019

Energy source

Contribution to Electricity Generation (%)

Fossil fuels (total)62.6%

Natural gas




Petroleum (total)


Other gases




Renewables (total)






Biomass (total)


Solar (total)




Table modified from U.S. Energy Information Administration (public domain).

Figure(PageIndex{a}): Top graph shows global energy consumption by source shows energy consumption in terrawatt-hours (TWh) on the y-axis and time in years (1800-2017) on the X-axis. The bottom graph shows the percentage that each energy source contributes to global energy consumption in 2019. Of the energy sources, crude oil has the highest consumption, overall increasing since 1950. Coal is the second highest, but its global consumption has declined in recent years. Natural gas is the third most consumed energy source and has also been increasing. Most types of renewable energy have low consumption compared to fossil fuels, but many have increased in recent years. Image by Our World in Data (CC-BY).

Coal has been used by humans for at least 6000 years, mainly as a fuel source. Coal resources in Wales are often cited as a primary reason for the rise of Britain (and later, the United States) in the Industrial Revolution. Coal electricity traces its origins to the early 20th Century, when it was the natural fuel for steam engines given its abundance, high energy density and low cost. Coal is the largest domestically produced source of energy. At the end of 2018, BP estimated at 734,903 million tonnes, with nearly 23.7% of that in the United States. It is a major fuel resource that the United States controls domestically.

Proven oil reserves (or natural gas reserves) refers to the amount of oil or natural gas that can be extracted economically with current methods (such as conventional wells or fracking). The U.S. Energy Administration estimates that there are enough liquid fuels to last through 2050 (and they include biofuels in this projection). In 2016, BP projected that proven reserves of oil and natural gas can support global demands for another 50 years. Additionally, they estimate that coal reserves can last another 115 years.

Scientists and policy-makers often discuss the question of when the world will reach peak oil production, the point at which oil production is at its greatest and then declines. It was initially predicted that global peak oil would be reached in 2000, but oil production and consumption continue to rise. The United States, however, already passed peak oil production in 1970.

The concentration of oil reserves in a few regions of the world makes much of the world dependent on imported energy for transportation (figure(PageIndex{b})). The rise in the price of oil in the last decade makes dependence on imported energy for transportation an economic as well as an energy issue. The United States spent $304.9 billion on oil imports in 2019. The United States has become more and more dependent on foreign oil since 1970 when our own oil production peaked.

Figure(PageIndex{b}): Global reserves of oil (top) and natural gas (bottom) by country in 2017 and 2020, respectively. The blue circle in each country is scaled to the size of the reserve. Both fossil fuels are abundant in the Middle East. Russia also has a rich supply of natural gas. Images from EIA (public domain).

The major holder of oil reserves is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, (OPEC). As of 2018, there were 15 member countries in OPEC: Algeria, Angola, Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. OPEC attempts to influence the amount of oil available to the world by assigning a production quota to each member except Iraq, for which no quota is presently set.

Overall compliance with these quotas is mixed since the individual countries make the actual production decisions. All of these countries have a national oil company but also allow international oil companies to operate within their borders. They can restrict the amounts of production by those oil companies. Therefore, the OPEC countries have a large influence on how much of world demand is met by OPEC and non-OPEC supply.

This pressure has lead the United States to developing policies that would reduce reliance on foreign oil such as developing additional domestic sources and obtaining it from non-Middle Eastern countries such as Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, and Nigeria. However, since fossil fuel reserves create jobs and provide dividends to investors, a lot is at stake in a nation that has oil reserves. Oil wealth may be shared with the country’s inhabitants or retained by the oil companies and dictatorships, such as in Nigeria prior to the 1990s.

Biofuels and Bioenergy

With increased public and scientific attention driven by factors such as oil price spikes, the need for increased energy security, and concerns over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, the production of fuels by biological systems is becoming increasingly important as the world seeks to move towards renewable, sustainable energy sources.

Biofuels and Bioenergy presents a broad, wide-ranging and informative treatment of biofuels. The book covers historical, economic, industrial, sociological and ecological/environmental perspectives as well as dealing with all the major scientific issues associated with this important topic.
With contributions from a range of leading experts covering key aspects, including:
&bull Conventional biofuels.
&bull Basic biology, biochemistry and chemistry of different types and classes of biofuel.
&bull Current research in synthetic biology and GM in the development and exploitation of new biofuel sources.
&bull Aspects relating to ecology and land use, including the fuel v food dilemma.
&bull Sustainability of different types of biofuel.
&bull Ethical aspects of biofuel production.

Biofuels and Bioenergy provides students and researchers in biology, chemistry, biochemistry and chemical engineering with an accessible review of this increasingly important subject.

Monthly Energy Review

A publication of recent and historical energy statistics. This publication includes total energy production, consumption, stocks, and trade energy prices overviews of petroleum, natural gas, coal, electricity, nuclear energy, renewable energy, and carbon dioxide emissions and data unit conversions values.

Each month, most MER tables and figures present data for a new month. These data are usually preliminary (and sometimes estimated or forecasted) and likely to be revised the following month. The first dissemination of most annual data is also preliminary. It is often based on monthly estimates and is likely to be revised later that year after final data are published from sources, according to source data revision policies and publication schedules. In addition, EIA may revise historical data when a major revision in a source publication is needed, when new data sources become available, or when estimation methodologies are improved. A record of current and historical changes to MER data is available on the What's New in the Monthly Energy Review&mdashContent Changes webpage.

Renewable Energies and Irrigation


Renewable energies are positioned as a good solution to fossil fuel depletion. For remote sites, where the grid is not available, renewable energies provide an excellent solution, since the energy sources are abundant (namely, solar radiation and wind). Thus, in this chapter, a state of the art of renewable energies use for water pumping is detailed. Hence, the situation of using renewable energies worldwide, namely, photovoltaic, thermal, wind, wave, hydraulic, and biomass energies, and the different photovoltaic installation architectures is first studied. Then, the renewable energies use for irrigation, tomatoes irrigation specifications and factors, namely, the soil, the climate, and the crops data are explained and detailed in depth.


Energy in China [8]
Primary energy
CO2 emissions
2004 1,296 18,717 17,873 1,051 2,055 4,732
2007 1,320 22,746 21,097 1,939 3,073 6,028
2008 1,326 24,614 23,182 2,148 3,252 6,508
2009 1,331 26,250 24,248 3,197 3,503 6,832
2010 1,338 28,111 25,690 3,905 3,938 7,270
Change 2004-10 3.3% 50% 44% 272% 92% 54%
Mtoe = 11.63 TWh, excludes Hong Kong.

On June 19, 2007, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency announced that a preliminary study had indicated that China's greenhouse gas emissions for 2006 had exceeded those of the United States for the first time. The agency calculated that China's CO2 emissions from fossil fuels increased by 9% in 2006, while those of the United States fell by 1.4%, compared to 2005. [9] The study used energy and cement production data from British Petroleum which they believed to be 'reasonably accurate', while warning that statistics for rapidly changing economies such as China are less reliable than data on OECD countries. [10]

The Initial National Communication on Climate Change of the People's Republic of China calculated that carbon dioxide emissions in 2004 had risen to approximately 5.05 billion metric tons, with total greenhouse gas emissions reaching about 6.1 billion metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent. [11]

In 2002, China ranked 2nd (after the United States) in the list of countries by carbon dioxide emissions, with emissions of 3.3 billion metric tons, representing 14.5% of the world total. [12] In 2006, China overtook the US, producing 8% more emissions than the US to become the world's largest emitter of CO
2 emissions. [13] However per capita China was ranked 51st in CO2 emissions per capita in 2016, with emissions of 7.2 tonnes per person (compared to 15.5 tonnes per person in the United States). [4] In addition, it has been estimated that around a third of China's carbon emissions in 2005 were due to manufacturing exported goods. [14]

Energy use and carbon emissions by sector Edit

In the industrial sector, six industries – electricity generation, steel, non-ferrous metals, construction materials, oil processing and chemicals – account for nearly 70% of energy use. [15]

In the construction materials sector, China produced about 44% of the world's cement in 2006. [10] Cement production produces more carbon emissions than any other industrial process, accounting for around 4% of global carbon emissions. [10]

National Action Plan on Climate Change Edit

China has been taking action on climate change for some years, with the publication on June 4, 2007 of China's first National Action Plan on Climate Change, [1] and in that year China became the first developing country to publish a national strategy addressing global warming. [16] The plan did not include targets for carbon dioxide emission reductions, but it has been estimated that, if fully implemented, China's annual emissions of greenhouse gases would be reduced by 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2010. [16] Other commentators, however, put the figure at 0.950 billion metric tons. [17]

The publication of the strategy was officially announced during a meeting of the State Council, which called on governments and all sectors of the economy to implement the plan, and for the launch of a public environmental protection awareness campaign. [18]

The National Action Plan includes increasing the proportion of electricity generation from renewable energy sources and from nuclear power, increasing the efficiency of coal-fired power stations, [19] the use of cogeneration, and the development of coal-bed and coal-mine methane. [17]

In addition, the one child policy in China has successfully slowed down the population increase, preventing 300 million births, the equivalent of 1.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions based on average world per capita emissions of 4.2 tons at 2005 level. [20]

12th Five-year Plan 2011-2015 Edit

In January 2012, as part of its 12th Five-year Plan, China published a report 12th Five-year Plan on Greenhouse Emission Control (guofa [2011] No. 41), which establishes goals of reducing carbon intensity by 17% by 2015, compared with 2010 levels and raising energy consumption intensity by 16%, relative to GDP. [21] More demanding targets were set for the most developed regions and those with most heavy industry, including Guangdong, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Tianjin. [21] China also plans to meet 11.4% of its primary energy requirements from non-fossil sources by 2015. [21]

The plan will also pilot the construction of a number of low-carbon Development Zones and low-carbon residential communities, which it hopes will result in a cluster effect among businesses and consumers. [21]

In addition, the Government will in future include data on greenhouse emissions in its official statistics. [21]

Carbon trading scheme Edit

In a separate development, on January 13, 2012, [22] the National Development and Reform Commission announced that the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenzhen, and the provinces of Hubei and Guangdong would become the first to participate in a pilot carbon cap and trade scheme that would operate in a similar way to the European Union Emission Trading Scheme. [21] The development follows an unsuccessful experiment with voluntary carbon exchanges that was set up in 2009 in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. [21]


Meeting the Paris Agreement will most likely require the combination of CO2 capture and biomass in the industrial sector, resulting in net negative emissions. CO2 capture within the industry has been extensively investigated. However, biomass options have been poorly explored, with literature alluding to technical and economic barriers. In addition, a lack of consistency among studies makes comparing the performance of CO2 capture and/or biomass use between studies and sectors difficult. These inconsistencies include differences in methodology, system boundaries, level of integration, costs, greenhouse gas intensity of feedstock and energy carriers, and capital cost estimations. Therefore, an integrated evaluation of the techno-economic performance regarding CO2 capture and biomass use was performed for five energy-intensive industrial sub-sectors. Harmonization results indicate that CO2 mitigation potentials vary for each sub-sector, resulting in reductions of 1.4–2.7 t CO2/t steel (77%–149%), 0.7 t CO2/t cement (92%), 0.2 t CO2/t crude oil (68%), 1.9 t CO2/t pulp (1663%–2548%), and 34.9 t CO2/t H2 (313%). Negative emissions can be reached in the steel, paper and H2 sectors. Novel bio-based production routes might enable net negative emissions in the cement and (petro)chemical sectors as well. All the above-mentioned potentials can be reached for 100 €/t CO2 or less. Implementing mitigation options could reduce industrial CO2 emissions by 10 Gt CO2/y by 2050, easily meeting the targets of the 2 °C scenario by the International Energy Agency (1.8 Gt CO2/y reduction) for the industrial sector and even the Beyond 2 °C scenario (4.2 Gt CO2/y reduction).


Pulp and paper is considered to be the fourth most energy-intensive industry (EII) worldwide. However, as most of the CO2 emissions are of biomass origin, this sector has the potential to become a carbon-negative industry. This study proposes a new concept for conversion of the pulp and paper industry to carbon negative that relies on the inherent CO2 capture capability of the Kraft process. The techno-economic performance of the proposed carbon-negative system, based on calcium looping (CaL) retrofitted to a pulp and paper plant, was evaluated. The effect of CaL design specifications and cost assumptions on the thermodynamic and economic performance were evaluated. Under the initial design assumptions, the reference pulp and paper plant was shown to turn from electricity importer to electricity exporter with the cost of CO2 avoided equal to 39.0 €/tCO2. The parametric study showed that an increase in the fresh limestone make-up rate resulted in a linear increase of the specific primary energy consumption for CO2 avoided (SPECCA) and a reduction in the amount of electricity exported to the electric grid. This translates into an increase in the price of pulp and newsprint, and the cost of CO2 avoided. This study has also demonstrated that the pulp and paper industry has high potential to become carbon negative. It has been shown that carbon capture and storage would become economically viable in this industry if the negative CO2 emissions are recognised and a negative CO2 emissions credit of at least 41.8 €/tCO2 is implemented.


Investigations and applications of renewable and sustainable energy have become central for addressing the issue of emissions of greenhouse gases from the use of fossil transportation fuels. Triglyceride-based liquid fuels have great potential as substitutes for petroleum and its derivatives. To date, the proven technologies for converting triglycerides into biofuels include transesterification, thermal cracking conversion, and hydrogenation. This paper presents an overview of recent research on these conversion technologies, employing homogeneous, heterogeneous, enzymatic, and photocatalytic catalysts. We focus on technical aspects critical to triglyceride conversion, including feedstock analysis, mechanism research, analysis of technological advantages and disadvantages, and catalyst development and selection. Biodiesel produced by the transesterification process must be blended with diesel before use due to its higher oxide content. The resultant “green diesel” has a broader range of applications, especially when its structure has been upgraded. Life cycle assessment (LCA) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reviewed to assess the renewability and sustainability of biofuels. We discuss the typical biodiesel production technologies with their development status, as well as the relevant policies and prospects for biofuels, mainly concerning biodiesel and aviation biofuel. It is hoped that our work will be of guiding significance for future biofuel research.

Watch the video: How Algae Could Change The Fossil Fuel Industry (January 2022).