What Is Non-renewable Energy?


Non-renewable resources cannot be replaced by natural means fast enough to keep up with consumption. Carbon-based fuels are an example. Heat and pressure convert organic materials into oil or gas. 

Earth minerals and metal ores, fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas), and groundwater in specific aquifers are non-renewable resources (except in nuclear reactions, nuclear decay, or atmospheric escape). Timber (when collected ethically) and wind (used to power energy conversion devices) are considered renewable resources since they can be replenished within human time periods.

Non-renewable resources include minerals and ores. Metals are abundant in Earth’s crust, but humans only harvest them when natural geological processes (heat, pressure, organic activity, weathering) concentrate them enough to be commercially feasible. Plate tectonics, tectonic subsidence, and crustal recycling are long-term processes.

Localized metal ore resources near the surface that people can extract cheaply are nonrenewable in human time. Some rare earth minerals and elements are scarce and exhaustible. These are popular in manufacturing, especially in electronics.

Coal, crude oil, and natural gas require thousands of years to develop naturally and can not be replaced fast enough. Fossil-based resources may become too expensive to harvest, and humanity may need to switch to solar or wind power.

If one incorporates all sources of carbon-based energy, such as methane hydrates on the sea floor, carbon-based fuel is almost infinite in human terms. These carbon sources are also nonrenewable, but their formation/replenishment rate on the sea floor is unknown. Their economic extraction costs and rates are unknown.

Humans mostly use nonrenewable fossil fuels for energy. Since the invention of the internal combustion engine in the 19th century, fossil fuels have been in demand. Conventional infrastructure and transport systems with combustion engines are widespread.

The modern fossil fuel economy is attacked for being unrenewable and contributing to climate change. Nuclear power generates 6% of the world’s energy and 13–14% of its electricity. Nuclear energy uses unstable elements, which can cause radioactive pollution. 

Nuclear power plants produce roughly 200,000 metric tons of low and intermediate-level waste (LILW) and 10,000 metric tons of high-level waste (HLW) (including spent fuel) annually. 

Land may be considered either renewable or nonrenewable, depending on the context in which it is used. It is possible to reuse land, but new land cannot be generated on demand; as a result, the land is an inelastic economic resource.

If you are interested in reading more about renewable and non-renewable resources, here’s an article about the advantages of renewable energy.


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