The Fuel Research Organisation was the first research organisation set up by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the emphasis on the importance of undertaking research in fuel problems reflecting anxiety about the long-term adequacy and inefficient utilisation of the nation's coal resources. That anxiety had found expression in the appointment by the Reconstruction Committee of a Sub-committee on Coal Conservation, and the decision to set up a fuel research organisation was the result of joint deliberations with that body and the British Association's Committee on Fuel Economy. Consequently a Fuel Research Board, with responsibility for the promotion and co-ordination of research into fuel, and a director of fuel research, were appointed by the committee of the Privy Council in February 1917. In its first report in March that year the board laid down two main lines of enquiry: a practical survey of the coal resources of Great Britain, and experimental investigation of more economical and efficient methods for the preparation of coal and its solid, liquid and gaseous products. In particular, absence of natural supplies of mineral oil necessitated research into producing more oil from coal than was obtained as a by-product of gas and coke manufacture; and it was quickly decided to build a new Fuel Research Station. This was established in 1919, the first new research establishment to be set up by the department.
For the coal survey, a collection of maps and general data was begun in 1917, and in 1919 a Survey Department of the board was organised to collect, sift, classify and register information. The board used local committees in each coal mining area to collect data. The organisation also included a number of coal survey laboratories in the principal coalfields to conduct a chemical and physical survey of the coal seams of the country. In August 1947 responsibility for the coal survey was transferred to the National Coal Board; the coal survey laboratories passed to that board and the coal survey committees, reduced in number, were reconstituted as committees of its divisional boards.
When responsibility for the investigation of atmospheric pollution was transferred to the department from the Air Ministry in April 1927, the work was placed under the supervision of the Fuel Research Board, assisted by an Atmospheric Pollution Research Committee, although from April 1930 to April 1945 the committee was a committee of the department rather than the board.
In 1943 a Standing Consultative Conference on Fuel Research was formed by the department to co-ordinate the activities of the Fuel Research Board and industrial research associations dealing with fuel research, who were represented on it. In November 1948 it was disbanded, responsibility for the co-ordination of fuel research being passed to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, which thereafter had its own Scientific Advisory Council.
The Fuel Research Station itself was established at East Greenwich with responsibility for undertaking a comprehensive plan of research into fuel, including resources, the preparation of manufactured fuels and methods of consumption. From 1927 it also undertook investigations of atmospheric pollution formerly conducted by the Air Ministry; in 1947 its work in relation to the coal survey was transferred to the National Coal Board. In 1958 the Fuel Research Board was replaced by a steering committee of the Research Council and the research station closed down, its work being either terminated or transferred to the new Warren Spring Laboratory. A Scottish branch of the station set up at Thorntonhall in 1949 subsequently became a branch of the Warren Spring Laboratory.