Nonrenewable Resource

What Are Nonrenewable Resources?

Nonrenewable resources are naturally occurring energy substances but with limited availability. These do not replenish naturally and, when consumed aggressively, deplete over time. However, due to being cost-effective and easy to use, these resources are widely utilized for production and extraction purposes.

These resources are found beneath the Earth’s surface and cannot be used sustainably. They are extracted in solid, gaseous, or liquid form and used to generate energy. Unlike renewable resources, nonrenewable substances take longer than one’s lifespan to get replaced or replenished. Hence, it is prudent to control the usage of these finite resources, as they might not be available once they get exhausted.

Nonrenewable Resource

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Key Takeaways
  • Nonrenewable resources definition refers to naturally-formed energy substances with limited availability. These do not replenish naturally and, when used extensively, get exhausted with time.
  • Once nonrenewable substances deplete, it would take hundreds of thousands of years for them to get replenished or reproduced.
  • The four nonrenewable resources are coal, crude oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy or fuel. The first three are collectively referred to as fossil fuels.
  • In 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration declared natural gas to be the largest source of electricity in the country.

Understanding Nonrenewable Resources of Energy

Nonrenewable resources of energy once consumed and exhausted, take hundreds of thousands of years to restore. It is because they form through different natural processes for millions of years. As a result, they cannot keep up with the rate of their consumption. For example, if the petroleum reserve gets over, it might take even millions of years to replace it for use again. To be more precise, a nonrenewable energy resource goes beyond a reasonable time frame when it comes to getting it back after exhaustion.

Nonrenewable energy resources are conveniently available, though, in a limited volume. Also, they have economic worth and are affordable to extract and hence widely used for industrial and household purposes. However, the aftermaths of using these substances are adverse. Their combustion is likely to emit contaminated gases in the atmosphere, polluting the environment and contributing to global warming. So, one must control the usage of these resources or switch to alternatives derived from their renewable counterparts.

Formation And Natural Availability

The four nonrenewable resources are coal, crude oil, natural gas, and nuclear fuels or energy. The first three are collectively referred to as fossil fuels. These fossil fuels come from the dead and decayed plants and animals buried under the Earth’s surface, in rocks and sediments for millions of years, and convert into nonrenewable substances due to pressure and heat. They mostly contain organic carbon material.

When plants and animals are alive, they receive energy from the Sun. Plants get solar energy during the process of photosynthesis that gets stored in their tissues. When animals eat those plants, this energy gets added to what they already hold in their bodies.

The fossil fuels, therefore, when burnt, the energy that remains absorbed in the dead and decayed plants and animals are released. It, thus, helps the community in different ways in the form of coal, petroleum, gasoline, etc.

Minerals and metal ores such as gold, silver, and iron are abundant within the Earth’s surface, in addition to fossil and nuclear fuels. As they form through geological processes over millions of years, they are considered nonrenewable substances.

List Of Nonrenewable Resources Examples

List Of Nonrenewable Resources Examples

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#1 – Coal

The first on the nonrenewable resources list is coal, which is extracted by digging underground mines. Formed by the fossilization of dead plant remains, this black substance contains carbon and hydrocarbon. Anthracite, lignite, bituminous, and sub-bituminous coals are the four forms of coal. When the coal burns, it produces heat used to generate electricity.

Its use can be traced back to the 1800s when people used it to heat their homes. Later on, it helped trains and ships to move, taking the form of fuel. Finally, factories started using it to produce metals like iron and steel.

#2 – Crude Oil or Petroleum

Crude oil extraction occurs by drilling a vertical well into the Earth’s crust, ocean floor, tar sands, and sedimentary rocks. It is the liquid form of the natural resource mixed with hydrocarbons and stored in underground reservoirs. It has a dark color and a strong odor.

These resources are available as fuel, like gasoline and diesel. The fuel powers engines of different vehicles, manufacture plastics, heating oil, lubricating oil, propane, jet fuel, artificial food flavor, and asphalt.

#3 – Natural Gas

These natural deposits found below in the Earth’s subsurface comprise natural gases, such as methane, propane, ethane, butane, and pentane. Processing plants remove these gases and convert them into liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). People use it to heat homes, for cooking, and industries use it to generate electricity using steam and gas turbines.

In 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration declared natural gas to be the largest source of electricity in the country, accounting for approximately 40% of its generation. 

#4 – Nuclear Energy

Radioactive elements Uranium 235 and Plutonium are two sources of fuels used in nuclear plants. Industries extract them from underground shafts and mines. The nuclei of such substances split through nuclear fission. In the process, a large amount of heat is released, which gets transformed into electrical energy with the help of steam turbines.

These minerals undergo nuclear fusion to generate nuclear power. This power produces electricity to drive generators and turbines. While using nuclear energy, it is crucial to handle radioactive elements properly to avoid environmental damage.

#5 – Biomass

Biomass is a type of energy that can be considered as both renewable and nonrenewable resources. This energy derives from that found in plants. It also depends on the biomass feedstocks, including crops, wood, etc., processed for electricity. If humans do not adopt ways of retaining the feedstocks frequently, biomass energy might get exhausted.

#6 – Gold

Gold deposits formed after collisions of neutron stars while our solar system was in the making. It continues to be the most robust metal of all time. The natural origin of the metal might make it appear as a renewable energy source. But the history shows that gold mining has been happening for a long time, and its amount is declining. The same continues, with 2,700 tons of gold mined annually even today.

#7 – Sand

Tar sand or oil sand comes from sedimentary rocks. Its composition includes a mix of sand, clay, water, and bitumen. These are available in sufficient amounts to fulfill the global requirements for more than a decade or more. The extraction of this resource, however, is quite laborious, making them nonrenewable.

#8 – Steel

Though steel is one of the most easily found energy resources and is available in infinite amounts, it is still a nonrenewable substance. It is because steel is obtained from iron cores, and the limited availability of the metal makes the long-term availability of steel doubtful.

#9 – Aluminum

Most of the time, aluminum misses mention in the list, but that does not make it less important as a natural substance. If there is no aluminum, there will be no vehicles running on the road or aircrafts flying in the sky. In addition, it is also widely used in the construction industry.

#10 – Groundwater

Groundwater is not a completely renewable resource, making it more likely to be included here on the list. Its retention through precipitation takes longer, making it fall under the substances considered as nonrenewable resources.

According to a 2015 study conducted by hydrogeologist Tom Gleeson and his team from the University of Victoria, it takes 50 years to replenish only six percent of the groundwater all across the globe.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

What are nonrenewable resources?

Nonrenewable resources are naturally occurring energy sources with limited availability. These do not replenish naturally and, when used, get exhausted with time. These resources are conveniently available and are affordable. Hence, these are widely used in different industries and households.

What are the top 5 natural nonrenewable resources?

The top five natural nonrenewable resources are:
– Coal
– Crude Oil or Petroleum
– Natural Gas
– Minerals (gold, silver, and iron)
– Nuclear Energy

Define renewable vs nonrenewable resources.

Renewable resources are sources of energy that have unlimited supply as they can replenish naturally, and that too within a reasonable time frame. On the other hand, nonrenewable resources are limited in supply and deplete with use. Also, replenishing these resources takes thousands or even millions of years.

This has been a guide to What is Nonrenewable Resource and its Definition. Here we discuss the formation And natural availability of nonrenewable resources, along with a list of examples. You may also have a look at the following articles to learn more –

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