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Non-renewable Energy

Non-renewable Energy

Author: Jensen Morgan

This lesson provides an overview of the sources, impacts and challenges to non-renewable energy.

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Source: Earth PD Peat Moss CC Oil PD Oil Barrel CC Cube PD Golden Gate CC Hubbert Curve PD Natural gas plant CC Coal Plant CC Nuclear Plant CC Earth PD

Video Transcription

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Hi. I'm Jensen Morgan. We're going to talk about some great concepts in environmental science.

Today's topic is non-renewable energy. So let's get started. We're going to talk about non-renewable energy, its sources and types, its impacts, and the future of fossil fuels.

Unlike renewable energy, non-renewable energy is produced using finite fuel sources, the vast majority of which are fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil. Fossil fuels that we use today were actually created millions of years ago. Fossil fuels are formed when microorganisms and organic matter such as peat moss decay, get buried under sediment, and undergo high levels of pressure and heat over a long period of time-- thousands or millions of years-- until they eventually become a fossil fuel.

One of the primary reasons fossil fuels are so useful is that their formation compresses large amounts of organic matter and its energy into a small space. The result is an extremely energy dense fuel source. While this process has not stopped and is even happening right now, the organic material being currently turned into fossil fuels won't be ready for millions of years. Because of the length of formation, fossil fuels are generally considered to be finite because they won't be replenished in a reasonable human lifespan or would be too costly to access.

There are four major sources of non-renewable energy, the first three of which are fossil fuels-- coal, oil, natural gas-- and the non fossil fuel nuclear energy. Oil is a hydrocarbon liquid found underground which is burned for energy. Oil is prized worldwide as one of the most valuable substances on Earth. It has a wide variety of uses, from providing fuel for transportation to being an ingredient in petrochemical products like plastic.

To give you context just how valuable oil is globally, let's look at this diagram. At the making of the video, annual worldwide oil production and consumption equals 1 cubic mile, meaning that if you made a glass cube one mile across, one mile deep, and one mile high, it would barely hold the oil used by all humans in one year. A cube that size makes the Golden Gate Bridge look small.

Peak oil is a point in time where the historical maximum rate of oil production will be reached before it begins to decline. Peak oil looks something like this graph. Currently, world oil supplies are peaking, yet global demand for oil is still increasing.

Oil can have widespread negative impacts if not managed properly, such as water and land pollution from oil spills, and leaks, which can damage flora and fauna. Oil can cause air pollution from burning, which can lead to climate change. And human health impacts include respiratory diseases from fumes and cancer from exposure to benzene compounds.

Natural gas-- a fossil fuel-- comes from pockets of hydrocarbon gas such as methane that are found naturally occurring underground and are harvested to be burned for heating and electricity. Natural gas has environmental concerns because distribution lines can damage habitat. It can contaminate water supplies. Burning it produces CO2 and other air pollutants that can contribute to climate change. Human health concerns include respiratory illnesses like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, which can be exacerbated by the gases and air pollution it produces.

In recent years, natural gas production and consumption have drastically increased due to new technology such as hydraulic fracturing-- also called fracking-- to allow humans to reach previously challenging pockets of natural gas. Fracking can cause water pollution issues because it requires liquids being pumped underground at high pressures to fracture the earth. The result can then leak these liquids into the water table.

Coal-- another fossil fuel-- is widely available and used to heat water boilers, which produce steam that spins a turbine in a generator to create electricity. Its environmental impacts include acid rain from sulfur dioxide; respiratory problems in animals, which can result from breathing in particulate matter; mining operations, which generate water pollution if not properly managed; and it produces carbon dioxide, which can contribute to climate change. It can impact human health by causing respiratory problems as well as impacts from heavy metal toxicity. Despite coal's rise over the last century, it recently has been declining as natural gas use has increased and government regulations have enforced emission requirements.

Nuclear energy, which is not a fossil fuel, harnesses the heat generated from the radioactive decay of a particular form of uranium. Nuclear energy is considered finite and nonrenewable because it is dependent on mined minerals which take long periods of time to form. Nuclear energy is used for electricity production and accounts for 6% of the world's energy and 13% to 14% of its electricity.

It can damage flora and fauna if its reactor or storage tanks leak. Because radioactive material can travel long distances and affect locations thousands of miles away, nuclear energy can be hazardous far beyond its immediate vicinity. Nuclear energy has been linked to causing cancer.

Nuclear energy becomes particularly problematic when it comes time to shut down a plant because the waste stays radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, so storing it is a challenge. Since 1996, no new nuclear plants have been brought online in the United States. However, there is one scheduled to come online in 2015.

Fossil fuels' popularity worldwide as an energy source has resulted from its abundance globally and its energy dense nature. However, at their current rate of use and the fact that they take millions of years to form, they are eventually going to be depleted. This means that renewable energies, or some other energy form, are going to have to take up the fossil fuel's part of the energy mix or energy demand will need to drastically decrease.

Now let's have a recap. Today we talked about non-renewable energy, its sources, its impacts, and the future of fossil fuels. Well, that's all for today. I look forward to next time. Bye.