Non-renewable resources are natural resources that cannot be replenished on a human timescale. Unless recycled, once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.
But, what are some examples of non-renewable resources?
Here are 10 examples of non renewable resources:
- Crude Oil
- Natural gas
- Gold and silver
- Rare Earth Elements (REE)
- Fossil Water
Obviously, there is no way to reverse the usage of these resources. Once they’ve been depleted, they won’t return again in our lifetimes or even several lifetimes after that. Luckily, thanks to technology and human innovation, we now know how to recycle some of them.
This helps with our efforts toward sustainable development and preserving those limited resources for future generations.
Table Of Contents
10 Examples Of Non Renewable Resources
Now I will explain more in detail each of those examples of non-renewable resources and when they are expected to run out.
1. Crude Oil
Crude oil, also known as petroleum, is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon found in the ground that has many uses, such as heating, transport, and manufacturing. So much so that in 2019 oil accounted for about 84% of all the energy used in the world.
The first oil drilling in the United States took place in Pennsylvania in 1859 and, since then, petroleum has been used ever since all over the world.
However, crude oil is a non renewable resource. The total amount of oil in the world’s supply is finite and won’t last forever. In fact, oil is a fossil fuel and requires about 60 millions of years and specific conditions to form itself from organic matter under specific conditions.
When will we run out of crude oil?
From the currently known oil fields we know that only about 10% of the crude oil in the world has been extracted so far. However, the extraction of most of the existing oil is not economically (and energetically) viable.
This means that at a certain point it will require more energy to extract a barrel of oil than what we would actually get. So, according to most experts, if we continue our current rate of oil extraction, it would probably last only for another 40-50 years.
According to many predictions, we may actually be already past (or very close to) peak oil. This represents the time when the production becomes more and more expensive because the new discoveries and extraction technologies can’t help anymore to keep up with the existing demand.
That’s why it is so important to not waste this precious non renewable resource and also start to transition towards renewable energy such as wind and solar power.
2. Natural Gas
If you’ve ever used a stove or had natural gas service in your home, then you’ve likely used natural gas. It’s a fossil fuel that is a mixture of methane and smaller amounts of other gases.
Natural gas is a non renewable resource and is extracted from the ground, primarily through drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
When will we run out of natural gas?
The US Energy Information Administration estimates that the world has enough natural gas to last about 98 years at current consumption rates. That said, it’s important to note that natural gas is a finite resource and will eventually run out.
Natural gas is mostly methane, and methane traps about 33 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 does. While natural gas may be cleaner than coal and crude oil, it’s not a green solution.
In fact, it’s decidedly not green if you consider that methane, if released in the atmosphere without burning, is a very potent greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere with 33 times the potency of CO2.
Natural gas is a finite non renewable resource that will eventually be depleted, even if we don’t continue using it at the same rate.
One exception to this is biogas, that is methane produced by the decomposition of organic material. Biogas is an example of a growing green technology that we can use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions released when organic matter is broken down.
Uranium is used in both nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and humans have been mining it since the 1940s. While about 90% of it can be recycled, it is important to protect uranium resources and avoid unnecessary usage.
Uranium is widely used to generate electricity, and while the pros and cons of nuclear energy are usually sparking long discussions and different feelings in society, this is without a doubt a primary source of energy for the modern economy.
When will uranium run out?
The United States currently has around 389 million pounds of uranium reserves (at a price of 100$ per pound). While the world has about 6.1 Mt of uranium reserves.
Which are expected to last around 90 years. As with other non renewable natural resources, it is important to conserve uranium reserves also for future generations.
However, due to the growth ind demand, this supply is being depleted quickly and unfortunately, uranium is a non renewable resource
Marble is a metamorphic rock that can be used in landscaping, flooring, sculptures, and ornate building facades. It’s mostly extracted from the ground in the Mediterranean, where it’s been mined since the 7th century B.C.E.
Marble is also a non renewable resource. Luckily, it’s estimated that the world has still plenty of marble left and it will take a long time before it’s all gone.
5. Gold and Silver
Gold and silver are other examples of non renewable resources that can be extracted from the ground.
The amount of gold in the world’s supply is estimated to be around 187,000 tons, and the amount of silver is around 80,000 tons. In contrast, there is an estimated 8 million tons of copper in the world’s supply, along with 4 million tons of nickel, and 2.5 million tons of zinc.
Unfortunately, some gold and silver, like many other mining operations require open pit mining, which is devastating for the environment.
This is one more reason to recycle those metals when possible. For example, solar panels use a lot of silver and with the exception of Europe, they are generally not recycled yet.
Once all the gold and silver have been extracted from the earth, there will be no more. Humans have been mining gold and silver for thousands of years, so they won’t run out anytime soon, but they are finite ad also rare metals to find.
6. Rare Earth Elements (REE)
Rare earth elements are 17 chemical elements that are critical to many modern technologies, including smartphones, hybrid cars, and wind turbines.
China currently produces more than 90% of the world’s rare earth elements, with the United States and other countries producing only small amounts.
Experts estimate that humans have more than 900 years before the rare earth elements are depleted. So those elements are not so rare after all!
However, the extraction of rare earth elements from the ground is environmentally damaging and requires a lot of energy. So their extraction is not environmentally sustainable.
Natural diamonds are a non renewable resource and the majority of them can be found in either Africa or Brazil.
Diamonds are one of the rarest minerals in the world, and humans have been mining them for thousands of years. Scientists estimate that we have about 18 years before all the available diamonds will be extracted.
The good news is that it is possible to produce artificial diamonds. However, those are mostly used in industry as their quality is not comparable to the one of natural diamonds.
Another material that humans have been mining for thousands of years is steel. Steel is made by combining iron and carbon, and humans have been doing this since ancient times.
The amount of iron in the world’s supply is finite, as this is another example of non renewable resources.
It’s estimated that the supply of iron is about 2.5 billion tons, and we know that only about 1 billion tons of iron have already been extracted.
This means that there are about 1.5 billion tons of iron left in the ground, and we have about 100 years before we’ve completely run out of iron. This means that steel will run out around the year 2070, so there’s still plenty of time to use it.
Phosphate is a common mineral found in many tropical regions, and humans have been mining it since the late 1800s.
Phosphate is used as fertilizer in agriculture, and it can also be used to make phosphate derivatives like chemicals, plastic, and detergents.
Since only about 10% of phosphate deposits have been mined, it’s estimated that we still have about 300-400 years before phosphorus runs out.
10. Fossil Water
Fossil water, also known as groundwater is water that’s found deep in the in soil and rocks, and people all over the world use it as a source of drinking water. Some people even use it as their primary water source.
Fossil water is a limited and non-renewable resource, because once pumped out, it can take thousands of years to replenish.
This water is still present in large quantities in many regions of the planet. One of the most popular of those is the Ogallala aquifer, that runs across 8 states in the USA.
This fossil water is also present in large quantity under some deserts. For example, Saudi Arabia is using fossil water for agriculture in the desert.
However, the levels of this limited resource are dropping very rapidly, so in recent years they started experimenting more water efficient agriculture techniques like hydroponics and others.
Scientists estimate that humans have used up about 40% of the world’s groundwater. Considering how precious freshwater is for life, we should do our best to conserve this resource.
These are the 10 examples of non renewable resources and when they may run out. The only way to slow the depletion of these resources is to use less of them whenever possible.
While it might be tempting to use up all of our natural resources, it’s important to remember that they may not last forever and we should try to recycle them when possible for a more sustainable future.