PROS and CONS of non-renewable energy

Nonrenewable energy comes from sources that cannot be replaced faster than they are used. Most nonrenewable types of energy are fossil fuels. They include coal, petroleum, or oil, and natural gas.

Fossil fuels are materials from the earth's crust. They are made up of a chemical element called carbon that is the physical basis of all life on Earth. Plants and other organisms are also made of carbon. Rocks and other sediments pile on top of the plants after they die. Underground, there is a lot of heat and pressure. It slowly turns the plant and animal remains into fossil fuels.

Zoom-inFossil fuels like coal and oil are extracted from the Earth's crust. Photo: Getty Images

Coal

Coal is a black or brownish rock mined out of the ground. We burn coal to create energy. Burning coal also gives useful materials that can be used in products like cement and plastic.

Petroleum

Petroleum is sometimes called oil or crude oil. Most of the world's oil is deep underground. We drill through the earth to reach it.

Oil has to be refined after it is collected. This separates out the different materials that make up the crude oil. About half of the world's petroleum is changed into gasoline. The rest is used in thousands of products.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is a fossil fuel found underground. It is trapped in rock formations. We use natural gas for heating, cooking and electricity.

Companies collect natural gas by splitting apart underground rocks. The process is commonly called fracking. It uses very high pressures of water to destroy rocks. Sometimes, certain chemicals help break down rocks that are too hard.

The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are very reliable and work well. They can be stored and shipped around the world. Local communities have access to jobs and money because of the fossil fuel business.

There are safety and pollution issues with using fossil fuels. Employees face dangerous situations. For example, coal miners are around toxic dust. They face cave-ins and explosions at work. Mining for coal can create underground fires.

Fossil fuels are also harmful for the environment. Using coal and oil can cause air, water and land pollution. Burning gasoline releases harmful gases and fumes. Drilling for oil can lead to spills. The oil harms oceans and surrounding land. Materials used for fracking natural gas can get into water sources.

Other Nonrenewable Energy Sources

Fossil fuels are the world's leading nonrenewable energy sources. But there are other sources too. Nuclear energy and biomass energy are two examples.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy uses a process called nuclear fission. Atoms split during fission and release energy in the form of heat. Power plants can turn this heat into electricity. Nuclear energy is considered nonrenewable. It uses a rare type of the chemical element uranium.

There are positives to using nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants do not cause the same pollution as fossil fuels. There are drawbacks, too. Nuclear energy creates radioactive waste products. Radioactive materials give off energy in ways that can cause burns or increase the risk for cancers. The waste needs to be handled and stored safely.

Biomass Energy

Biomass energy is a renewable energy resource. Renewable energy comes from a resource such as sunlight or wind that does not run out when used.

Biomass energy comes from burning plant matter. This includes waste from forests, farming and products like paper and cardboard. If people do not replant biomass plants as fast as they use them, biomass energy becomes nonrenewable. In other words, it is used up.