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Non-renewable Energy Sources

Massive oil platform in Scotland

The non-renewable energy sources available today on planet Earth are limited resources of energy, represented by fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.

The nuclear fuel such as uranium and plutonium used today by nuclear power plants is also limited, so it is considered a non-renewable resource.

Mankind still relies today on non-renewable energy sources for electricity and heat production, and this is the reason why the environment (air, water and soil) is so polluted by the harmful emissions released by burning fossil fuels.

What Are Non-renewable Energy Sources? Definition

Non-renewable energy is a term that describes the limited sources of energy available on the planet today, that consist of dirty fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, and also nuclear fuel such as uranium and plutonium, which are also limited resources.

Being limited resources of energy, all the non-renewable energy sources used today for electricity production will be depleted in just a couple of decades.

Mankind has already started to increase the renewable energy generation capacity on the planet (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, wave, tidal, etc.), and also tries to master more advanced sources of clean energy (nuclear fusion) because when the conventional sources of power will be depleted entirely, we need alternative sources of power, which must be renewable and also 100% clean.

Non-renewable Energy Sources Available Today

A non-renewable source of power is a resource that will not be replenished in our lifetime, and will be depleted way before the end of this century, which means that we can’t count on it as an energy source for the future.

We can include here the fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, and also another non-renewable resource represented by nuclear fuels such as uranium and plutonium.

1. Coal

Coal is a fossil fuel that appears under the form of a black or brownish rock and is used for electricity and heat generation.

Coal is one of the most affordable fossil fuels used today on a mass scale (especially in the developing countries) to produce cheap electricity, but also for cooking and residential heating.

Even if it is an affordable source of power, coal is a non-renewable source of energy and is also the most dirty among all the fossil fuels because it releases the highest amount of harmful emissions while burning.

Coal was formed from the dead plants and animals that lived here on the planet hundreds of millions of years ago, and will never be replenished.

The energy released when we burn coal today is the same energy gathered by the animals and plants living in the past.

That energy came from the Sun and was used (as today) to support life and the chemical processes in the plants such as the photosynthesis.

In the near future, coal needs to be replaced as a major source of power on the planet by a renewable resource that needs to be clean because the pollution of the environment needs to be stopped.

2. Oil

Oil is a fossil fuel in liquid form that is located in underground rock formations.

In some places on the planet, the crude oil reserve is so close to the surface (at the La Brea Tar Pits, in Los Angeles) that can be seen with the naked eye.

However, the largest reserves of oil on the planet are located deep underground, so mankind needs to drill through to rock to access them.

Oil reserves are not located only on land, they can also be located deep under the sea floor (offshore reserves of oil).

To harvest the offshore oil reserves mankind uses oil platforms that work day and night to pump the liquid fossil fuel from the deposits located under the sea floor.

The oil reserves of today have been also produced by the dead plants and animals that lived here on the planet in a very distant past.

Crude oil is refined into various types of fuels

Crude oil needs to be refined in order to become useful for the different industries where is used.
Refining the oil means that some of the chemicals contained by the crude oil are removed, and the crude oil is now turned into petroleum.

About half of the petroleum produced on the planet today is used to produce fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel and others.

The other part is used by different industries to produce rubbing alcohol, nail polish, water pipes, shoes, roofing, crayons, vitamin capsules and many other useful things.

The fuels used to run our cars contains oil, and oil is also used to generate electricity and heat.

However, being a fossil fuel produced from dead plants and animals that lived in the past, oil releases harmful emissions for the environment when burns in the engines of our vehicles or when is used for electricity and heat production.

Oil is less polluting than coal, but because it releases harmful emissions into the atmosphere while burning, needs to be replaced by a clean and renewable source of power.

3. Natural gas

Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel used today by mankind, and is a candidate to become the main source of energy on the planet that will replace coal and oil during the transition period from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Natural gas is located in deposits a few hundred meters under the ground.

To get the natural gas out of the ground, companies need to drill straight down to reach the deposits which can be located on land or under the bottom of the sea.

However, there are many small pockets of natural gas trapped in rock formations that can cover a big area in the underground rock of many countries, including the U.S., and which is harvested using the process called “hydraulic fracturing” or simply fracking.

Fracking is harmful for the environment and for the people that live close to a fracking rig

The process involves injecting water under pressure in the underground rock to split the rock and release the natural gas that is trapped there.

When the rock formation cannot be open using only water under pressure, acids are used to dissolve the rock and release the natural gas.

Sand is also mixed with the high-pressure water to easier open the rock, and release the fossil fuel located there.

Natural gas is used to produce heat for cooking and residential heating, as a fuel in our cars, and to generate electricity.

This fossil fuel in gaseous form releases less emissions while burning (compared with coal and oil), so can be considered a low-carbon energy source.

Being cleaner than coal and oil, natural gas will successfully replace the dirty fossil fuels to lower the emissions released on the planet.

Natural gas can also be used as a low-carbon fossil fuel that can help mankind to make the transition from the dirty fossil fuels that dominated the global energy mix to a future where renewable energy is the dominant source of power in the world’s energy mix.

4. Nuclear energy

Nuclear power is considered today another form of non-renewable energy (other than fossil fuels) because the resource used as nuclear fuel in the today’s nuclear reactors is a limited resource.

Uranium and plutonium are used today as nuclear fuels in the nuclear power plants to generate clean electricity and harmful nuclear waste.

Uranium is a limited resource on the planet, and even if it wouldn’t be a limited resource, uranium and other nuclear fuels based on uranium have no future as an energy source for mankind due to the nuclear waste produced during the nuclear fission reaction.

Thorium is another fossil fuel proposed to replace uranium as a nuclear fuel because thorium is more abundant on the planet and is more affordable, but it is still a limited resource.

Only hydrogen can be considered a renewable resource because is a very abundant element on our planet (in the seawater) and in the known universe, and can be used as nuclear fuel in the nuclear fusion reaction, which is the same nuclear reaction that takes place in our Sun in every second.

Nuclear fusion produces less waste during the nuclear fusion reaction (and is no hazardous for us and the environment), and could represent the energy source of the future for mankind.


The non-renewable energy sources used today on a large scale for electricity and heat production, and also as fuels in our vehicles will no longer be used in the future.

They only represent the sources of power (dirty power) of the mankind during its evolution from wagons drawn by animals and manual labor to industry and mass production.

The future will be dominated by low carbon energy sources and renewables, and by the end of the century, the non-renewable energy sources will become history.

Article written by:

I am a writer and reporter for the clean energy sector, I cover climate change issues, new clean technologies, sustainability and green cars. Danny Ovy

1 Comment

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