Tom Melhuish 5 min read

Fossil Fuels | Everything you need to know

Despite recent efforts to move towards renewable energy sources, the supply of electricity and gas to British properties still relies heavily on fossil fuels.

The availability of natural gas, oil, and coal has a big impact on business energy rates. Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about fossil fuels.

What are fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels are hydrocarbons found underground that have formed over million years from the remains of dead plants and animals.

The most common forms of fossil fuels are coal, natural gas and oil. These fuels are extracted from the earth through mining and drilling in massive industrial processes. Fossil fuels are then used to produce heat, generate electricity and power transportation.

How are fossil fuels formed?

Fossil fuels are thought to take hundreds of millions to form in a gradual compression and digestion of ancient plant matter. The formation of fossil fuels is formally called Anaerobic digestion and occurs in the following steps:

  • On the ancient Earth, extensive forests covered most of the land.
  • Plant material from fallen trees was slowly buried beneath the earth’s surface or covered by the sea or lakes due to geological changes.
  • The underground or underwater plant material is starved of oxygen and starts to digest anaerobically.
  • Over millions of years, various bacteria convert the plant material into coal, natural gas and oil.

What are the different types of fossil fuels?

There are three types of fossil fuels used in human processes as sources of energy:

Liquid oil

  • Used in transportation in the form of petrol and diesel used to power internal combustion engines.
  • Used in aviation to power jet engines.
  • Used as fuel oil in boilers and furnaces to heat properties.
  • Used in the production of tarmac.
  • Used as an industrial lubricant.
  • Used in power generation through combustion to produce steam that drives turbines.

Natural gas

  • Used in power generation through combustion to produce steam that drives turbines.
  • Used in boilers to heat properties.


  • Used in power generation through combustion to produce steam that drives turbines.
  • Used in the production of steel.

Are fossil fuels renewable?

No, a renewable source of energy comes from an inexhaustible source. Fossil fuels are exhaustible because producing them takes hundreds of millions of years.

At the rate we are currently using fossil fuels, they will run out within the next century. However, to limit climate change, it will be necessary to stop using fossil fuels much faster than this.

Do fossil fuels cause climate change?

Yes, using the burning of all types of fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The use of fossil fuels in human activities is by far the biggest source of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The UK plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The plan requires that the UK stop generating electricity by burning fossil fuels and instead relying on green energy sources.

What can my business do to use less fossil fuels?

A great way your business can reduce its carbon footprint is to switch to a green energy tariff. Business energy suppliers now offer tariffs, where gas and electricity supplied are generated from entirely renewable sources.

In a green electricity tariff, your supplier will commit to producing your electricity without burning fossil fuels. In a green gas tariff, the fossil fuel natural gas will continue to be supplied to your business; however, the gas is produced by a renewable process rather than by extracting fossil fuels from the ground.

Renewable energy is getting cheaper each year. See how much your business can save by comparing business energy today.

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