Nonrenewable energy is derived from sources that will deplete or be depleted in our lifetimes—or even in many lifetimes.
Coal, petroleum, and natural gas are the most common nonrenewable energy sources. In fossil fuels, carbon is the most abundant element. As a result, the Carboniferous Period (about 360-300 million years ago) is named after the time when fossil fuels were produced.
All fossil fuels are made in the same way. Earth had a diverse terrain hundreds of millions of years ago, even before the dinosaurs, and it was surrounded by swampy forests and large, shallow oceans.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Fossil fuels are an important energy source. Extracting them is relatively affordable, and they may be stored, piped, and delivered all over the world.
However, burning fossil fuels has negative environmental consequences. When coal and oil are burned, particulates are released into the air, water, and land. Some of these particles are captured and stored, but most are released into the atmosphere.
Burning fossil fuels also disrupts Earth’s “carbon budget,” which maintains a carbon balance in the ocean, on land, and in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned (heated). The “greenhouse effect” is how carbon dioxide traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is required for life on Earth, but it is contingent on a balanced carbon budget.
For millions of years, the carbon in fossil fuels has been sequestered or stored underground. Earth’s carbon budget is out of balance because this trapped carbon is released into the atmosphere. Temperatures are rising faster than organisms can adapt as a result of this.
Coal is a dark brown or black rock. Coal is used to generate energy. Coal is classified according to how much “carbonization” it has undergone. Carbonization is the transformation of ancient organisms into coal. Approximately 3 meters (10 feet) of solid vegetation were crushed, and 3 meters (1 foot) of coal!
The lowest rank of coal is peat, and it has been exposed to the least amount of carbonization. It is a vital energy source in places like Scotland, Ireland, and Finland.
The highest grade of coal is anthracite. Anthracite originates in areas of the planet where there have been massive earth movements, such as mountain range formation. The Appalachian Mountains, located in the eastern United States, are abundant in anthracite.
Coal is mined from the Earth and burned for energy, and underground, and surface mining are the two methods for extracting coal.
Underground mining is employed when coal is found 300 meters (1,000 feet) below the Earth’s surface, deeper than most of the Great Lakes! Miners descend a mineshaft in an elevator. They operate heavy machinery that extracts coal from the subsurface and transports it to the surface. Cutting coal can generate hazardous gases, making this task dangerous. The gases have the potential to produce explosions or make it difficult for miners to breathe.
When coal is found relatively close to the Earth’s surface, surface mining is performed. Companies must first clean the area before they can access the coal, and they remove the trees and the dirt. The coal can then be extracted from the Earth. During this process, entire habitats are destroyed.
Coal provides around half of the electricity in the United States, and it provides electricity to our lights, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other electrical appliances. When coal is burned, it leaves behind valuable “byproducts.” The byproducts are used to create cement, polymers, roadways, and various other items.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Coal is a dependable energy source, and we can count on it to provide fuel and electricity day and night, summer and winter, sunshine or rain.
Coal is also hazardous. Mining is one of the most dangerous occupations on the planet, and coal miners are exposed to dangerous dust and risk cave-ins and explosions while on the job.
When coal is burned, harmful gases and contaminants are released. Coal mining can also cause the ground to cave in, resulting in underground fires that can last for decades.
Natural Gas (NG)
Another fossil fuel trapped underground in reservoirs is natural gas, and methane makes up most of it. You’ve probably smelled methane. In landfills, decomposing materials release methane, a rotten egg odor.
Natural gas reserves are measured in a million, billion, or trillion cubic meters underground.
Natural gas is found a few hundred meters underground in deposits, and companies drill straight down into the ground to extract natural gas. On the other hand, natural gas does not form in large open pockets, and natural gas is trapped in multi-kilometer-long rock formations.
Some corporations utilize a technique known as “hydraulic fracturing,” or fracking, to extract natural gas. Hydraulic refers to how they work with water, and fracturing refers to how they “break apart.” The subterranean rocks are torn apart by high-pressure water, allowing natural gas trapped in rock formations to escape. They can send acid down the well to dissolve the stone if it is too hard. They can even prop open the rock with tiny pieces of glass or sand to let the gas out.
Natural gas is used to heat and cool our homes, and natural gas can also generate electricity. Natural gas is used to power our houses’ lights, televisions, air conditioners, and kitchen appliances.
Liquid natural gas is created by converting natural gas into a liquid state (LNG). LNG is far more environmentally friendly than any other fossil fuel.
Natural gas in liquid form takes up much less area than natural gas in gaseous form. The quantity of natural gas that would fill a large beach ball as a liquid would fill a ping-pong ball! LNG can be conveniently stored and used for various applications, and LNG might potentially be used to replace gasoline.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Natural gas is a “cleaner” fossil fuel than oil or coal and is very affordable to extract. When natural gas is consumed, it produces carbon dioxide and water vapor (the same gases we exhale!). This is a healthier alternative to coal.
On the other hand, natural gas extraction might have negative environmental consequences. Mini-earthquakes can be caused by fracturing rocks. High-pressure water and chemicals driven underground can spill into adjacent water sources. Drinking and bathing water sources can become contaminated and dangerous.
Other sources of nonrenewable energy
Fossil fuels are the most common nonrenewable energy source on the planet. Others, however, exist.
Nuclear power is typically regarded as a nonrenewable energy source. The material utilized in nuclear power plants is not renewable, even though nuclear energy is.
Nuclear energy harnesses the enormous energy stored in an atom’s nucleus or core. Nuclear energy is obtained by splitting the nucleus of a bit, known as nuclear fission. Nuclear power plants are complicated machinery that produces electricity by controlling nuclear fission.
Uranium is the most common material used in nuclear power reactors. Even though uranium may be found in rocks worldwide, nuclear power plants typically use U-235, a highly uncommon kind of uranium.
Nuclear power is a widely used method of generating electricity worldwide. Nuclear power stations produce no pollution or greenhouse emissions, and they can be developed in rural and urban settings and do not harm the environment.
Nuclear energy, on the other hand, is difficult to obtain. Nuclear power plants are extremely difficult to construct and operate, and many localities lack the scientists and engineers necessary to create a safe and dependable nuclear energy program.
Nuclear power also generates radioactive waste. Exposure to radioactive waste can cause severe burns and increase the risk of cancer, blood disorders, and bone degeneration in those who are exposed.
Energy from Biomass
Biomass energy, a renewable energy source, can also be used to generate nonrenewable energy. Biomass energy harnesses the power of plants.
Biomass energy is based on biomass feedstocks, which are plants that are processed and burned to generate electricity. Crops like corn and soy, as well as wood, can be used as biomass feedstocks. Biomass energy becomes a nonrenewable energy source if humans do not replant biomass feedstocks as quickly as they use them.