What Is the Difference Between Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources? 7 Things You Need to Know

What is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources? These terms get thrown around a lot, but we want to help you understand their real meaning. So what is the difference?

Renewable resources come from energy resources that can be used over and over, but non-renewable resources have a finite limit and can be depleted. While resources are either finite or infinite, there are many factors that go into their designation. Environmental concerns and cost play into their unique characteristics.


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What Is the Difference between Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources

The difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources can be further examined by characteristics unique to each. Renewable resources can be used repeatedly because they are either replaceable or nearly limitless.

Oxygen does not deplete because it is always being produced. The sun produces an almost limitless amount of solar energy. These are renewable resources.Unlike oxygen, which is produced faster than mammals can breathe it in, coal is produced over many years. Mankind can use coal much faster than it can be created. The same is true of fossil fuels.


Renewable resources are typically those that cause no problematic pollution. For this reason, they are increasing in popularity among many industrialized nations, particularly in the United States and Britain. Solar energy, wind energy, and geothermal energy are renewable resources that are always replenished and cause no pollution.



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Biofuels are produced through agricultural practices that result in the use of recently living organisms (biomass), such as plants. These are easily renewed, as opposed to fossil fuels or petroleum. Since the millennium, the use of biofuels has increased by over 100 percent and is projected to continue growing for the next 50 years.

Ethanol is a common renewable biofuel that is commonly blended with gasoline to limit carbon monoxide emissions. Some gas stations now have signs advertising ethanol pumps for automobiles with Flex-Fuel.

Likewise, biodiesel is a renewable biofuel. It can be produced from vegetable oils and animal fats as a replacement for diesel fuel. It can be blended with petroleum diesel and is able to fuel diesel engines.

Solar Energy


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When searching for an answer to the question "what is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources," you will come across mention of solar energy. Solar energy captures the sun's rays to create energy.

Solar energy can create heat and light. It can produce electricity that heats your water and cools your home in the summer. Photovoltaic systems use solar cells to create electricity from the sunlight. When water is circulated through solar collectors, it can be used to heat homes. In larger buildings, solar energy can provide ventilation, light, and even cooling.

The natural limitations of solar energy include the many hours per day that the sun is not in the sky. Cloudy days are another natural barrier. Drawing power from surplus grids is a very expensive proposition, and even then, nonrenewable energy is still needed to fuel the PV and send surpluses.

Talk of solar thermal plants remain unlikely in the winter unless they were built in the world's hottest year-round areas.

Wind Energy


When searching for "what is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources," you will come across discussions of wind energy. A windmill is turned by the wind and can pump water and provide irrigation.

Wind can be captured by turbines and converted into electricity. Large wind farms produce enough electricity to be contracted for use, but the amount of land required to produce wind energy as a long-term solution to energy needs is debatable. It would take the land of many towns to produce the energy of one small power plant.

Geothermal Energy


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Geothermal energy comes from the earth's heat and is harnessed by geothermal power plants. The earth's core is over 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is an effective source of heat. Melted rock or magma makes its way to the earth's surface, often resulting in volcanic activity. 

Such heat and activity inside the earth can also be utilized for good. Geothermal energy is a renewable resource because it is continually produced inside the earth. Every day, geothermal energy helps heat homes and offices and provides energy for industrial processes.

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When searching for "what is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources," you will come across hydroelectricity. Look around a local historical district and you may be able to see a large water wheel attached to a mill on the river.

Today, energy from flowing water is captured by dams and reservoirs, where it is diverted to water turbines as needed. Other times, flowing water is diverted to a smaller channel apart from a dam. Hydroelectricity typically provides energy to farms and even small towns.

Ocean Thermal Energy

Warm surface water temperatures in the ocean can be turned into electricity. Ocean mechanical energy uses the movement of the tide while energy from wind-driven waves can be converted into supplemental energy to defray electricity costs. Seaside towns can even use cold ocean water from the deep to cool buildings.

Renewable Prices

To date, renewable resources are still more expensive than non-renewables on the whole. Based on supply and demand, however, non-renewable resources could become more expensive as their supplies dwindle. The demand for renewable energy resources such as biofuel grows as the world's population increases. It puts less of a necessity on shrinking supplies of nonrenewable resources.

Global Renewables

Use of renewable resources saves a shrinking supply of fossil fuels, but international efforts are ongoing to push nations toward their use in an effort to combat climate change. Such efforts include the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the Paris meeting of 2015.

Governments are also strategically using tax incentives and burdens to encourage the use of nonrenewable resources. Requirements and incentives have also focused specifically on biofuels.

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Non-renewable Characteristics and Types

Fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and crude oil are nonrenewable resources. Fossil fuels are formed when remains of plants and animals are buried for many years. Other renewable resources include non-fossil fuels such as uranium ore, because there is a limited supply of the fuel.

Nonrenewable resources are natural resources that can be used up faster than they are created, such as uranium ore. Once nonrenewable resources are depleted, there are none available in the future. Therefore, recyclable metals and sustainably harvested trees are actually considered renewable.


When energy is created from nonrenewable resources, greenhouse gases are created along with other pollutants and toxins. Extraction of nonrenewable resources pollutes the air and can lead to respiratory issues.

The burning of fossil fuels can produce massive amounts of sulfur dioxide leading to acid rain. Extracting natural gas by hydraulic fracturing may pollute drinking water, and the burning of gasoline by automobiles creates high levels of carbon emissions and sulfurous gasses.

Fossil Fuels


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When searching for "what is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources," you will come across fossil fuels. Most of the world's fuels are still created from nonrenewable resources because they are more affordable than renewable alternatives and they have high energy content.

The gasoline you buy for your car, propane you buy for your grill, and oil you buy for your heater are all created from natural gas and crude oil. The creation of the combustible engine made petroleum and other fuels a commodity.

Minerals and Metals

Iron, gold, and other resources mined from the earth are considered nonrenewable resources. The time and natural process required to create more iron and other minerals cannot keep up with the pace that these resources are used.

These are nonrenewable resources, therefore, stand to be depleted. Deposits of metal ores near the earth's crust are proportionally in greater supply than fossil fuels.

Nuclear Energy


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When searching for "what is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources," you will come across nuclear energy. Nuclear energy relies on radioactive material such as uranium.

Uranium is used to power nuclear reactors that create heat. The heat then powers turbines that generate electricity. Radioactive contamination is always a concern in the nuclear power community, and the proper storage of radioactive waste is fiercely debated.

Global Nonrenewables

International efforts exist to point out the consequences of burning fossil fuels in our environment. Also, nuclear material can be toxic, and climate change has gained worldwide attention.

Global proponents of renewable resources hope that nonrenewable energy will reach a price point that becomes too expensive for nations to incur. They assume prices will rise as the supply of nonrenewable resources diminishes.

What Came First?

It was less than two centuries ago that humans began to extract energy from underground plant and animal remains. Their use of coal, oil, and natural gas was extremely productive, and it was much more effective than relying on wood fires, wind, and water.

Now you know the answer to the question: "What is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources?" Today, new opportunities for returning to renewable resources are presenting themselves. Entire careers exist in the research and implementation of renewable energy sources, and a new generation of workforce members is leading the charge.

The Future

Renewable resources offer clean, reliable energy independent of international politics. However, it takes a lot of money to utilize renewable energy. Not to mention, making the switch from nonrenewable to renewable energy sources will come at a cost.

Solar and wind energy produce less than one percent of the energy in the world, and they both still require nonrenewable backups.However, energy demands are growing worldwide at a fast rate, and there may not be enough nonrenewable energy sources to keep up.

The answer may lie somewhere in the middle, but to be part of the conversation, one must have a fundamental understanding of the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources.

Last update on 2021-07-16 at 15:44 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Bailey Longhurst

I am amazed every day by the beauty that this world provides for us and think it is important to preserve it! Taking care of ourselves and our earth is crucial and I want to help people discover new ways to do both. Publishing for Green and Growing is a unique way that I can get my message across, and I hope you all enjoy what we write about!

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