Finite and renewable resources

Finite resources from the Earth's crust, oceans and atmosphere will one day run out. They can be processed to provide energy and useful materials. Renewable resources are those which will not run out in the foreseeable future.

One of the most important finite resources in the crust is crude oil. Crude oil is processed through fractional distillation and cracking to produce a wide variety of useful chemicals. Sea water is a renewable resource because there is such a large amount of it that humans will not use it all up.

Sometimes natural products can be supplemented or replaced by agricultural and synthetic products. For example, until 1910 all fertilisers were obtained from natural resources such as manure.

However, the Haber process enabled humans to produce fertilisers from nitrogen in the air, and has allowed synthetic fertilisers to be produced. Synthetic fertilisers have allowed intensive farming to become widespread, which has meant that we can produce enough food to support the growing world population

Another example of resource exploitation is copper. The graph below shows how the estimated global population has increased since 1900.

Graph showing rise in world population

The graph below shows how the global use of copper has changed since 1900.

Graph of copper production since 1900

There is a clear correlation between the increase in global population and the demand for copper. Learn more about sustainable copper extraction.


By what factor did the production of copper increase between 1920 and 1995?

It increased by a factor of ten (from approximately 1 million tonnes per year to approximately 10 million tonnes per year).

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