Fuels have been used by man from the very beginning of the civilization. From the ancient age to the modern age, fuels have played an essential part for mankind. Let’s peer into the past to learn more about the ‘Past Fuels’.
So what was the fuel used by Stone Age man? It is said that fire was the first use of fuel by man, either lit by his flint stone tool or forest fire which he used for cooking his meat or to scare away wild animals. In this example, the timber itself consumed in the burning process was obviously the fuel. Thus, fuel is a very ancient concept and man has been using it in various forms for different purposes for a long time. The need for fuel did not remain limited to cooking food. With advancements in understanding and technology, it grew and changed.
Basically, fuel is a substance from which we extract or produce energy to do work. Therefore it can be our food we eat - essential for body’s function, or wind to run mills or water to generate electricity or coal for industry or petrol to run our vehicles.
Fossilized wood or coal is one of the oldest fuels used by man. In the 17th century, the importance of vegetable oils to burn lamps was known and people used wind energy to start and run wind mills. These mills were used for various purposes like grinding grains and channeling water into fields. James Watt developed engines which could be run on the power of steam and steam engines were made for our service. Steam engines powered many different types of machines including railway engines, and industrial machinery such as rubber manufacturing units and cotton mills. People also generated power by burning grass, hay or wood mostly to cook food and to get warmth.
In countries like India, the sun has been constant source of power since unknown times. Indians worship the sun to show their gratefulness for the energy it gives. Developing countries still rely on one of the fuels from the past, wood, to carry out daily chores like cooking and heating bath water.
In addition to this, manpower and animal power have been used since bygone eras. The horse is an animal which has been used by man to do the heavy work for centuries. Men have also used donkeys and other beasts of burden for shifting heavy loads from one place to another. In some Asian countries, animal dung cakes are still burnt as fuel for fires.
In the late 19th century, the discovery of fossil oil and natural gas and invention of electricity changed the whole energy scenario. It seemed the greatest solution for our all industrial and domestic energy needs. Now nuclear energy and bio-fuels are increasingly being used to fulfill the energy needs the human race. Man’s applications and development of the use of fuels has certainly come a long way from merely using fire for cooking and light.