Non-renewable energy resources

Coal

Where is it from?

Coal is formed from fossilised plants consisting of carbon with various organic and some inorganic compounds.

It is then mined from seams of coal, found sandwiched between layers of rock in the earth and burnt to provide heat or electricity.

Advantages:

  • a ready-made fuel
  • relatively cheap to mine and to convert into energy
  • provides constant and reliable energy
  • coal supplies will last longer than oil or gas

Disadvantages:

  • when burned coal gives off atmospheric pollutants
  • burning coal contributes to build-up of greenhouse gases
  • there is a limited supply of coal which will eventually run out
  • mining (particularly open cast mining) can destroy habitats and cause visual pollution

Oil

Where is it from?

Oil is a carbon-based liquid formed from fossilised animals.

Lakes of oil are sandwiched between seams of rock in the earth.

Pipes are then sunk down to the reservoirs to pump the oil out. It is widely used in industry and transport.

Advantages:

  • a ready-made fuel
  • relatively cheap to extract and to convert into energy
  • provides constant and reliable energy
  • easily transported
  • technology for burning oil is in place

Disadvantages:

  • when burned, it gives off atmospheric pollutants
  • burning oil contributes to build-up of greenhouse gases
  • as easily reached reserves are used up, extraction becomes more expensive (eg deep sea drilling)
  • oil spills can cause serious environmental damage (eg BP Gulf of Mexico spill)
  • only a limited supply

Natural gas

Where is it from?

Methane and some other gases trapped between seams of rock under the earth's surface are natural gases.

Pipes are sunk into the ground to release the gas. It is often used in houses for things like heating and cooking.

Advantages:

  • gas is a ready-made fuel
  • it is a relatively cheap form of energy
  • it's a slightly cleaner fuel than coal and oil
  • versatile for both domestic and industrial use
  • provides constant, reliable energy

Disadvantages:

  • when burned, it gives off atmospheric pollutants
  • contributes to build-up of greenhouse gases
  • highly flammable/potentially explosive
  • only limited supply of gas

Nuclear

Where is it from?

Nuclear energy comes from radioactive minerals such as uranium, which are mined.

Electricity is generated from the energy that is released when the atoms of these minerals are split (by nuclear fission) in nuclear reactors.

Although sources of uranium for nuclear power are finite so it is not completely renewable. However they could supply power for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to come.

Advantages

  • a small amount of radioactive material produces a lot of energy
  • raw materials are relatively cheap and long lasting
  • does not give off atmospheric pollutants
  • provides constant, reliable energy

Disadvantages

  • nuclear reactors are expensive to run
  • nuclear waste is highly toxic, and needs to be safely stored for hundreds or thousands of years (storage is extremely expensive)
  • leakage of nuclear materials can have a devastating impact on people and the environment (eg Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, Fukushima in 2011)
  • concerns around security of nuclear reactors eg sabotage, terrorist threat