The list of energy sources that we use to power our modern economies continues to grow with the development of renewables and new ways of extracting some of the old favourites. We’re going to take a look at some of the main sources of energy we’re using right now, around the world to generate the power we need moving through the 21st Century.
It’s a fossil fuel that currently supplies over 30% of the world’s energy needs – mainly for transportation. Oil is the basic building block for all non-synthetic petroleum products such as petrol and diesel – the fuels powering trains, planes, ships, commercial and passenger vehicles. Oil is also used in smaller quantities in paint, fabric, fertilizer and cosmetics.
The 10 major oil producing nations are Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Russia, Libya and Nigeria. Australia produces around 0.3% of the world’s crude oil.
2. Natural Gas
According to APPEA, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, Australia is the third largest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the world, which as an energy source is chasing oil and coal for the title of the world’s leading energy source. Natural gas is also a fossil fuel but emits less CO2 when used in energy production. Natural gas is one of the cleanest and safest sources of energy and is used predominantly in the manufacturing, mining and electricity generation industries.
3. Brown Coal
Global consumption of brown coal is still growing due mainly to its low cost. Along with oil and gas, it’s also a fossil fuel (lignite), composed of sedimentary rock found in the earth’s crust. Brown coal is primarily used in electricity generation and has a lower calorific (or energy) value than black coal. Australia has almost 25% of the world’s brown coal reserves, located in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley.
4. Black Coal
Black coal is also known as bituminous coal, sub-bituminous coal, anthracite and graphite. Due to its high calorific value, black coal is used for electricity generation as well as steel production and cement manufacturing. While graphite is technically a type of coal, it’s not used in power generation because it’s too difficult to ignite.
5. Coal to Liquids
Ever versatile, coal can also be converted into a liquid fuel. This happens through a liquefaction process that allows coal to be used like any other liquid fuel such as diesel and petrol. Coal can be liquefied by direct liquefaction or indirect liquefaction. The indirect liquefaction process has been used widely in South Africa since the 1960s and is now being seen as an attractive alternative fuel source by countries with plentiful coal reserves. However, production costs of coal liquefaction currently still outweigh the cost of producing or importing oil.
Uranium is used mainly in nuclear energy – sometimes for nuclear weapons - and like the other minerals used in nuclear power generation, is radioactive. Being radioactive means that the material is composed of unstable atoms. We’re not going to get into too much detail about radiation, but uranium is used for nuclear power generation in a range of countries such as France, Japan, Finland, Switzerland, India, Belgium, Canada and China, among others. While Australia doesn’t produce nuclear energy, the country does have large proven uranium deposits, estimated at approximately 31%, which is the second largest of the world’s known uranium reserves behind Kazakhstan.
7. Shale Oil
Shale Oil, like all the fossil fuels, has been known about for a long time but until recent times has been too uneconomical to produce on large commercial scales. Now, Shale Oil is being used to produce energy in thermal and electrical power plants as well as being used in the manufacture of bricks, cement, glass and fertilizers. The USA has the largest reserves of Shale Oil in the world, but it’s estimated by the Australian Government, that Australia has shale oil resources of 131, 600 PJ (Petajoules), the equivalent of 22,390 million barrels) that could potentially be developed once economic and environmental challenges are overcome.
8. Coal Seam Gas
Coal Seam Gas or CSG is an important source of energy for Australia and can be found wherever there are coal deposits. CGS can be used for the same energy generation purposes as natural gas – and is of a similar chemical composition, although sometimes known as ‘sweet gas’ it lacks the hydrogen sulphide content found in natural gas. Coal Seam Gas is methane-rich. Queensland started producing CSG over 20 years ago. Along with New South Wales, Queensland is home to the majority of Australia’s CSG deposits and also has three large gas projects at the port of Gladstone that convert CSG to Liquefied Natural Gas, (LNG) which can then be exported.
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