Is Coal a Renewable Resource?

EnergyCalendarJanuary 14, 2019

Is coal a renewable resource? There’s some confusion on this point because as a naturally occurring resource, coal might appear to be inexhaustible.

The difference between renewable and non-renewable resources is that a renewable resource is replenished by the natural world within a realistic timeframe to be used again. A non-renewable resource won’t be replenished and will eventually run out. 

Coal is a finite resource because the conditions that were in place to form coal are long gone. Even if the conditions were right, coal regeneration within our lifetimes could not happen because it would take millions of years for new coal reserves to solidify.

In this post, we’ll talk more about how exactly coal formed, the process of mining coal, and what happens when we burn coal. We’ll also look briefly at a few other non-renewable and renewable energy sources that are used today. 

Is Coal a Renewable Resource?

The coal we use today started as living plants millions of years ago. The plants soaked up light from the sun which they then used to create energy through photosynthesis. 

These plants were located in areas with a lot of swampy lands with groundwater in or even on top of the soil. Over millions of years, the plants died and sank to the bottom of the bog as they decomposed.

Slowly these sediments worked their way deeper into the ground. Time and pressure eventually compacted the energy-rich plant remains into solid black or dark brown coal deep in the earth.1

Because the atmosphere of the earth was very different when the coal formed, the conditions to create new coal no longer exist on a large scale. Again, even if they did, we couldn’t reap the benefits for millions of years, which doesn’t fit into a 20-year energy plan. 

Now we mine for coal by digging deep into these compacted layers. Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Miners have to dig hundreds of feet into the ground and breathe in fine particles that can cause health problems with the eyes, nose, throat, and even serious lung disease. 

Unearthing the coal can also release dangerous gasses that can harm the coal miners and cause explosions. 

There is also a risk of being trapped in the mines, and for underground fires that burn for decades, releasing more fumes and gasses into the atmosphere.2

Furthermore, as is evidenced by the dangers of miners on the front lines of coal collection, coal is not a clean energy source. Burning coal releases carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur, and other toxic chemicals into the air. The consequences are widespread health issues and damage to the environment causing and worsening climate change.3

Other Non-Renewable Resources

Some of the other common fossil fuels still used today are petroleum (oil), natural gas, and the uranium used for nuclear power plants. Like coal, these resources are still fairly easy to harvest and distribute, which is why they are still in use. But also like coal, they have some serious drawbacks. 

Petroleum is used for gasoline and other everyday products by a refining process. The burning of oil, gasoline, and natural gas also releases damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Though natural gas burns cleaner than the first two, it isn’t completely clean and there are pollution concerns about the groundwater (which later becomes drinking water) where it’s harvested.4

The bottom line with all of these is that even if there was a way to safely collect them and somehow burn them cleanly with no health or environmental concerns, they are still non-renewable and will eventually run out. 

Renewable Energy Resources

Some of the most well-known sources of renewable energy are wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, and of course solar. 

These options are gaining attention and traction because they provide energy with little to no impact on the environment, they don’t release any dangerous gasses, and they will naturally replenish as long as the world turns, water flows, and the sun burns. 

Solar is leading the way in renewable energy because it is easy to deploy on a large scale and is increasingly more affordable for individual homeowners and business owners. Also, it can actually help people save on their energy bills over time. 

If you’re interested in how you can add solar to your home and do your part in reducing the use of non-renewable energy sources, and get long-term energy savings, reach out to us today. We love helping people problem solve and get that energy bill under control.

 

Endnotes

1 https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Coal_formation
2
 http://careerminer.infomine.com/on-the-job-risks-of-mining/
3
 https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.php?page=coal_environment

4 https://www.livescience.com/34464-what-is-fracking.html

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