Peat is the "forgotten fossil fuel." While oil, coal, and natural gas are exported around the world, few outside northern Europe are aware of this energy source.

In certain circumstances, peat can be an early stage in coal formation. Most of the time, however, peat is a unique material.

Peat forms in bogs. Bogs are a type of wetland with a high acid content. Like all wetlands, bogs are inhabited by marshy plants, including trees, grasses, and moss. The bog's acidity prevents this vegetation from fully decaying. This partly-decayed organic material builds up in bogs. Over millions of years, it becomes peat.

Peat is thick, muddy, and, when harvested, looks like dark, earthen bricks. Traditional peat harvesting involves a farmer or laborer manually cutting thick strips of peat with a large, sharp hoe. Areas of harvested peatlands are called cutaway bogs for this reason. (Today, industrial peat harvesting involves huge tractors that scrape peat from the surface of bogs. This scraped peat is then collected into bricks. This is called milled peat.)

Wet bricks of raw peat are pressed to force out water. The bricks are then dried further, using heat or pressure. The bricks are then used as fuel, mostly for heating homes and businesses.

Northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia and the British Isles, have the most peatlands harvested for fuel use. However, peat bogs can be found from Tierra del Fuego to Indonesia. Finland, Ireland, and Scotland are the biggest consumers of peat as a fuel.

acid
Noun

chemical compound that reacts with a base to form a salt. Acids can corrode some natural materials. Acids have pH levels lower than 7.

bog
Noun

wetland of soft ground made mostly of decaying plant matter.

British Isles
Plural Noun

group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean off Western Europe, including Great Britain, Ireland and several smaller islands.

coal
Noun

dark, solid fossil fuel mined from the earth.

cutaway bog
Noun

wetland bog from which peat has been removed by hand or industrial means. Also called a cutover bog.

decay
Verb

to rot or decompose.

earthen
Adjective

made of soil (earth).

fossil fuel
Noun

coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

industrial
Adjective

having to do with factories or mechanical production.

milled peat
Noun

granular particles of peat scraped from the surface of a bog and mixed with other materials by special machinery.

Noun

type of fossil fuel made up mostly of the gas methane.

oil
Noun

fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

organic
Adjective

composed of living or once-living material.

peat
Noun

layers of partially decayed organic material found in some wetlands. Peat can be dried and burned as fuel.

peatland
Noun

wetland bog.

Scandinavia
Noun

region and name for some countries in Northern Europe: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

Tierra del Fuego
Noun

group of islands at the southern tip of South America.

unique
Adjective

one of a kind.

vegetation
Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.

Noun

area of land covered by shallow water or saturated by water.