Explain the Difference Between a Renewable & Nonrenewable Resource

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    Basics of Nonrenewable Resources

    • Nonrenewable resources originate beneath the surface of the Earth and are liquids, solids or gases in their raw forms. The most commonly used nonrenewable resources as of 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, are oil and petroleum products--like gasoline, diesel fuel and propane--natural gas, coal and uranium, the last of which supplies nuclear power plants. Fossil fuels are types of nonrenewable resources formed from plant and animal remains buried millions of years ago and turned into products like petroleum (oil). Other fossil fuels include coal, natural gas and propane.

    Basics of Renewable Resources

    • The most commonly used renewable resources in the United States as of 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, are biomass, hydro power and energy generated from geothermal, wind and solar sources. Biomass is organic material from plants and animals that contains the stored energy of the sun; wood, manure and certain types of garbage are examples of biomass fuels. Hydro power comes from harnessing the energy of water; geothermal power stems from heat sources deep within the Earth, and solar power uses the sun's energy.

    Use of Renewable vs. Nonrenewable Resources

    • Only 7 percent of the United States' energy came from renewable energy resources in 2008. That means 93 percent of the energy used in the U.S. was from nonrenewable sources. Half of renewable energy resources go to producing electricity, though they have the capability of being used for a wide variety of purposes--such as fueling vehicles with biodiesel. Nonrenewable resources produce over 90 percent of electricity and fuel most vehicles on the roads as of 2010.

    Barriers to Using Renewable Energy Resources

    • The sun alone provides enough energy for the world in just 40 minutes--if the appropriate technologies were produced. However, before the early 21st century price increases on nonrenewable resources--like oil, nonrenewable resources were generally less expensive to use. That is becoming less true as of 2010. Other barriers to using renewable energy resources before 2010 included mass production of technology that could compensate for environmental factors--such as cloudy days when using solar panels or non-windy days when using wind turbines. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects use of renewable resources to increase in the 21st century.

    Controversy Surrounding the Term "Renewable"

    • There is some controversy surrounding the use of the term "renewable." Wood, for instance, is considered renewable, as the trees used to produce wood fuel can be regrown--some in a few years. However, this depends on refraining from using certain practices that are still employed today--such as clear-cutting, which destroys a forest's ecosystem.

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