Fossil Fuel: Meaning and Definition of Fossil Fuel, Origin of Fossil Fuels

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Meaning and Definition of Fossil Fuel

  • A fuel that is formed due to natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms which contain organic molecules originating in ancient photosynthesis.

  • The energy gets released in combustion.

  • They contain high percentages of carbon and include petroleum, coal, and natural gas.

  • In simple terms we can define fossil fuels as the fuels formed by natural processes such as decomposition of dead and buried organisms.

Origin of Fossil Fuels

  • Over millions of years ago the fossil fuels were formed from the fossilized remains of dead plants by exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth’s crust.

  • The first use of the term “fossil fuel” occurs in the work of the German chemist Caspar Neumann in the English translation in 1759.

  • As per the English Dictionary Oxford in the phrase “fossil fuel” the adjective “fossil” means “obtained by digging; found buried in the earth.

  • The characteristic properties such as density, viscosity, boiling point, melting point, etc. is due to the specific mixture of hydrocarbons.

  • Fuels like natural gas has very low boiling and gaseous components. On the other hand, gasoline or diesel contain much higher boiling components.

Types of Fossil Fuels, Their Formation and Uses

Coal Petroleum Natural gas

Types of Fossil Fuels

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  • Coal is believed to be formed over millions of years by decay of land vegetation.

  • It is made up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and Sulphur being a hard and black colored substance.

  • Three major types are anthracite, bituminous and lignite.

  • Anthracite is believed to be the hardest type of coal and with higher concentration of carbon.

  • Lignite contains a lower concentration of carbon with a high concentration of oxygen and hydrogen.

  • Bituminous is a soft coal containing a tarlike substance called bitumen or asphalt.

  • Derivates such as coke, coal tar, and coal gas can be obtained by processing coal industrially.

  • Carbonization is the process of formation of coal.

Uses of Coal

  • Earlier on coal was used for producing steam in the railway engines.

  • It is used for generating electricity in thermal plants.

  • Used in industries as fuel.

  • It is also used for cooking food.


  • It is an oily liquid usually green or black in colour.

  • It is a mixture of petroleum gas, diesel, paraffin wax, petrol, lubricating oil, etc.

  • Gasoline has a unique, odd smell.

  • Petroleum was formed due to the sea animals and plants which died millions of years ago and their bodies settled down at the bottom of the sea.

  • A series of process if involved in separating petroleum from crude oil in a refinery, also known as petroleum refining.

Uses of Petroleum

  • It is used in roofing, road pavements and as a water repellent.

  • Petroleum is also used in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, rubber, plastics, paints and more.