What is the role of petroleum as a raw material in the economy? And are there alternatives?

Asker: Ashwan, 18 years old


Dear Ashwan,

The answer is relatively simple, namely essential, indispensable, we cannot live without it. This has been the credo for about the last 250 years and not always for petroleum, in the past rather for coal. After all, the industrial revolution was supported by coal as an energy source. What you should deduce from this is that the question is rather: What is the role of fossil fuels for our economy? In this way you involve all fossil fuels in this discussion, namely petroleum, natural gas and coal (including lignite). If you look at it that way, fossil fuels are responsible for about 75% of all energy that we as a society, civilization and economy need. The largest share in this has petroleum (40%), indeed. Now the influence of fossil fuels not only plays on the production of energy, but also as a raw material for very many products that we use every day: medicines, packaging materials, plastics, polishes, cosmetics, etc. Without petroleum, we have a big problem here, our society collapses without petroleum as a raw material. Fortunately, the fraction of petroleum we need for this is only 10%, the rest we burn in our homes, cars, trucks, planes and boats. So our economy is essentially a petroleum (fossil fuel) driven and supported economy. In the future, much more will have to be invested in research and development of technology to make use of sustainable raw materials and alternative energy sources.


Answered by

prof. Dirk Vanderzande

Hasselt University
Agoralaan University Campus Building D BE-3590 Diepenbeek


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