Emissions from non-renewable energy: what greenhouse gases do Australia’s fossil fuels create?


Australia's reliance on non-renewable energy sources, particularly coal, natural gas, and oil, is a massive contributor to the country's greenhouse gas emissions. These fossil fuels are the primary sources of energy for electricity, heating, transportation, and industrial processes in Australia. They emit a wide range of greenhouse gases throughout their lifecycle.

Coal

Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. It has historically been a cornerstone of Australia's energy system, especially for electricity generation. Burning coal releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. Additionally, coal mining releases methane (CH4), which has greater heating potential in the short term.

Natural gas

Natural gas, often touted as a cleaner alternative to coal, still contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. While burning natural gas for energy produces less CO2 than coal or oil, the extraction and transportation processes can release methane.

Oil

Oil, used primarily for transportation and some industrial processes, generates CO2 when burned. The production, refining, and transportation of oil also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Types of gases

Methane is a common byproduct of the oil and gas industry, resulting from both intentional releases, such as venting and flaring, and unintentional leaks. Nitrous oxide (N2O), another greenhouse gas, is emitted during the combustion of fossil fuels, though in smaller quantities than CO2 and methane. The extraction and processing of fossil fuels also result in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter, contributing to air pollution and health issues, alongside their climate impacts.

Sectors

Fossil fuel-powered electricity plants, particularly coal-fired stations, are among the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. These plants emit vast amounts of CO2, making the electricity sector a key target for emissions reduction efforts. Transportation, heavily reliant on oil-derived fuels like petrol and diesel, is another major emissions source. This sector's emissions come not just from the combustion of fuels but also from the energy-intensive production and distribution of these fuels. Australia's industrial processes, many of which depend on fossil fuels, emit a wide range of greenhouse gases, including CO2 from energy use and process emissions, methane from certain chemical reactions, and nitrous oxide from fertiliser production.

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