The Non-Renewable Resources of Energy
Truthfully, most of the electricity we consume in the U.S. today is from non-renewable energy resources. The news is filled with stories alternative energies and renewable energy but while we read the news we heat and cool our homes with fossil fuels as we've done for many years.
The most often used non-renewable energy sources are:
- Oil (including products derived from oil such as gasoline, propane and diesel fuel)
- Natural Gas
Oil, coal, and natural gas are labeled fossil fuels because they were created over millions of years from plant and animal remains buried long ago. The decomposition resulting from these remains was exposed to heat and pressure that resulted in rich natural resources we can use today.
Uranium is not one of the fossil fuels but is present in many rocks and areas around the world. It is non-renewable as more uranium ore is not being created. It is important to understand non-renewable energy fuels are natural resources created by the earth over eons of time.
They are non-renewable because they cannot be grown, replicated or generated in a way that can provide for the high consumption rate. The fuels provided to us by veins of coal and deep oil fields beneath the surface of the earth were created over millions of years but will be depleted after a few generation of increasing power use by the human population around the globe.
Problems for Non-Renewable Energy
Though coal is still mined, the hard, flint like anthracite coal has almost disappeared. The anthracite was coveted for its slow burning properties and also for the lower emissions it created. Coal burned in power plants today is bituminous which is somewhat softer and burns faster.
The main focus of problems of non-renewable energy fuels is oil. Most of the world's oil is in the Middle East through there are other oil fields spread through many countries. Power struggles, religious and political differences often threaten the flow of oil from mid-Eastern countries.
The United States does not get most of its oil from the mid-East but any disruption in oil production or sales in that region immediately impact the sales of oil produced in other countries.
Though we've long known the supplies of fossil fuels were limited only recently have scientists revealed the rate of depletion is far faster than predicted.
This is due to increased population but also to increased fuel use in developing countries. The demands for electrical power continue to rise year by year and this has increased the use of oil and coal beyond the levels expected only 30 years ago.
Clearly, the answer to depletion of non-renewable energy fuels is to develop power plants that operate on freely available and renewable resources.
The focus has been on developing one new form of energy production and the focus has moved several times from hydroelectric power to solar power to wind energy and geothermal energy and to biomass. What is becoming apparent is that future energy needs will need more than one solution.
With the majority of the world depending on electrical power from fossil fuels, one of the alternatives initially proposed was nuclear energy. Uranium is an ore that is non-renewable but readily available in most areas of the globe.
By itself in its natural form, uranium is not a particularly dangerous substance. The issues that surround the subject of nuclear energy have led many to think of mining uranium as a highly dangerous occupation when, in truth, it's no more dangerous than any ore mining procedure.
Anti-renewable Energy Groups
Anti-renewable energy groups often try to list nuclear energy as a renewable resource. This is a deliberate attempt to influence public opinion and is misleading.
Uranium is not renewable and listing nuclear energy alongside solar and wind energy does not make the processes related but only confuses the issue of renewable and non-renewable energy processes.
At one time nuclear power was considered the energy source of the future. Fear of radiation has halted nuclear plant building in the U.S. for years.
Though nuclear power plants are operating in many areas with no problems and are producing the electricity used for many cities, there is still resistance to building more nuclear reactors.
A high level of regulation and the involvement of multiple government agencies has led to a line of red tape that only adds to uncertainty and makes the cost of nuclear reactors too high to bear.
Perhaps the greatest problem associated with use of non-renewable energy from uranium is the necessity to store spent fuel rods safety for hundreds of years or more.
The fission created in the nuclear reactor causes a chain reaction that continues until the uranium has been used up. Once started, there is no way to stop that chain reaction.
Though a fuel rod will last for years in the reactor, once removed it is highly radioactive and must be stored in thick concrete beds filled with water or other cooling fluid.
Should a process be found that would allow reactor workers to neutralize the chain reaction of fission, nuclear power would be a valid and realistic source of power well into the future. That is a pipe dream, however, and the focus is on safe storage of spent power rods and potentially on the ability to recycle the uranium for reuse.