Non-renewable resources are resources for which there is a limited supply. The supply comes from the Earth itself and, as it typically takes millions of years to develop, is finite.
Categories of Non-Renewable Resources
Non-renewable resources can generally be separated into two main categories; fossil fuels and nuclear fuels.
Fossil fuels are derived from organic matter which has been trapped between layers of sediments within the Earth for millions of years.
- The organic matter, typically plants, have decomposed and compressed over time, leaving what are known as fossil fuel deposits.
- These deposits, and the materials produced from them, tend to be highly combustible, making them an ideal energy source.
- They are difficult to obtain as they are typically retrieved through drilling or mining, but fossil fuels are worth the effort for the sheer amount of energy they produce.
Crude oil is a non-renewable resource that builds up in liquid form between the layers of the Earth’s crust.
- It is retrieved by drilling deep into the ground and pumping the liquid out. The liquid is then refined and used to create many different products.
- Crude oil is a very versatile fuel and is used to produce things like plastics, artificial food flavorings, heating oil, petrol, diesel, jet fuel, and propane.
The top three oil-producing countries are Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
Natural gasses gather below the Earth’s crust and, like crude oil, must be drilled for and pumped out.
- Methane and ethane are the most common types of gasses obtained through this process.
- These gasses are most commonly used in home heating as well as gas ovens and grills.
Russia, Iran, and Qatar are the countries with the largest recorded natural gas reserves.
Coal is the last of the major fossil fuels. Created by compressed organic matter, it is solid like rock and is obtained via mining.
- Out of all countries, China produces the most coal by far.
- According to the Statistical Review of World Energy, published in 2011 by BP, they produced an astounding 48.3% (3,240 million tons) of the world’s coal in 2010, followed by the United States who produced a mere 14.8%.
Coal is most typically used in home heating and the running of power plants.
The other form of non-renewable resource used to produce energy, nuclear fuels, is primarily obtained through the mining and refining of uranium ore.
- Uranium is a naturally occurring element found within the Earth's core.
- Most uranium deposits occur in small quantities which miners gather together, refine, and purify.
- Once gathered, the uranium is brought together and compounded into rods.
- The rods are then submersed into tanks of water.
- When it reaches critical mass, uranium begins to break down and release energy which heats the water it is immersed in. This is known as "fission."
- The heated water then creates pressure and it is this pressure which drives the turbines that generate the electricity we use everyday.
Nuclear fuels are key to maintaining the Earth's environment since they are the cleanest of all non-renewable resources.