Nonrenewable resources are resources that have a limited supply. More than that, these resources can't be replaced by natural means at a pace that meets its consumption. A lot of our fossil fuels, such as oil, are nonrenewable resources. In other words, if we keep using them, they will eventually run out.
In many of the examples of nonrenewable resources below, the supply comes from the Earth itself. However, since it typically takes millions of years to develop, these resources are finite. Nonrenewable energy can generally be separated into two main categories: fossil fuels and nuclear fuels. Let's take a closer look.
Fossil fuels are derived from organic matter which has been trapped between layers of sediments within the Earth for millions of years. 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 a potent energy source. They're difficult to obtain because they're typically retrieved through drilling or mining. However, many consider fossil fuels to be worth the effort for the sheer amount of energy they produce.
Crude oil is a nonrenewable resource that builds up in liquid form between the layers of the Earth's crust. It's retrieved by drilling into the ground and ocean floor, 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.
Petroleum deposits that begin to form underground are known as oil sands, bitumen, or bituminous sands. Bitumen is too thick to be pumped under natural conditions. Scientists refer to it as cold molasses. With special machinery, much of this is being mined in Alberta, Canada, serving as a major energy source for Canadians as well as people all around the world.
Natural gas gathers 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 gases are most commonly used in home heating as well as gas ovens, stoves, 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. In fact, it has been the largest producer of coal for the last three decades, producing more than 3 billion tons of coal each year. Coal is most typically used in home heating and the running of power plants.
The other form of nonrenewable 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, refine, and purify. Once gathered, the uranium is brought together and compounded into rods. The rods are then submerged 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. The breaking down is known as fission. The heated water then creates pressure. This pressure drives the turbines that generate electricity in nuclear power plants.
Relying heavily on an energy source that could potentially run out seems like a dangerous endeavor, right? Truth is, we don't know how long resources like oil will be readily available for consumption. That's why we see scientists working to develop alternate fuels. Until we change the way we motorize our vehicles, why not take a look at the things we can preserve? Here's a closer at the earth's renewable resources.