Document Type

Book Chapter


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Publication Details

Coyle, E., Grimson, W., Basu, B. & Murphy, M. (2014). Reflections on Energy, Greenhouse Gases, and Carbonaceous Fuels. In Coyle, Eugene D. and Simmons, Richard A. (Eds), Understanding the Global Energy Crisis, pp.11-26.Purdue University Press. (Knowledge Unlatched Open Access Edition.)

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In this chapter, we review the history of man’s dependence on carbonaceous fuels for survival, beginning with pre-industrial civilizations, during which charcoal was pro- cessed for thousands of years to smelt iron and copper. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, coke and coal became prime energy resources which powered the engine rooms of the industrial revolution. Accompanying the economic and societal benefits of this period was the recognition of the damage resulting from smog owing to excessive burning of coal, which affected both human health and the natural envi- ronment. These pivotal centuries laid the foundation for the advancement of scientific knowledge and discovery which underpinned both engineering developments and the sciences of the natural world, including earth science, atmospheric science, and meteo- rology. These developments in turn led to our modern understanding of climate change and the effect of greenhouse gases. Today coal, petroleum, and natural gas still play a vital role in our global energy mix. While scientists and engineers have developed clean coal technologies such as carbon capture and storage, it is important to question whether such technologies can offset the growing carbon footprint caused by the use of carbonaceous fuels. This challenge is complicated by the growth in scale of total global world energy demand, the scale of economic investment required to implement such technologies, and the race against time to minimize the damage resulting from continued use of fossil fuel energy.