Non-renewable energy resources

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels include coal, oil and natural gas.

They were formed from the remains of living organisms (plants and animals) millions of years ago.

They have chemical energy stored within them and are non-renewable because they cannot be replaced within a human lifetime.

About three-quarters of the electricity generated in the UK comes from power stations fuelled by fossil fuels.

This diagram shows an energy transfer diagram for the generation of electricity from a fossil fuel such as coal.

Energy transfer diagram showing Coal (store of chemical energy), Water and steam (store of heat energy), Turbine and Generator. The energy transfers between each one is noted.

Advantages of using fossil fuels

  • At the moment, fossil fuels are relatively cheap and easy to obtain. This may not always be the case.
  • Much of our infrastructure is designed to run using fossil fuels.

Disadvantages of using fossil fuels

  • Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy resources. Their supply is limited and they will eventually run out.
  • Coal and oil release sulphur dioxide gas when they burn, which causes breathing problems for living creatures and contributes to acid rain.
  • Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide when they burn, which adds to the greenhouse effect and increases global warming. Of the three fossil fuels, for a given amount of energy released, coal produces the most carbon dioxide and natural gas produces the least.
  • A non-renewable energy resource is one that has a finite supply and it will run out at some stage. They are used faster than they can be replaced.
  • Fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal are considered non-renewable because they cannot be replaced within a human lifetime.

Carbon capture

Carbon capture and storage is a way to prevent carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere.

It is a rapidly evolving technology that involves separating carbon dioxide from waste gases.

The carbon dioxide is then stored underground, for example in old oil or gas fields such as those found under the North Sea.