<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
In this module, the following topics are addressed: 1) environmental impacts of energy use, 2) energy sources based on their environmental impact, and 3) the global capacity for each non-renewable energy source.

Learning objectives

After reading this module, students should be able to

  • outline environmental impacts of energy use
  • evaluate the different energy sources based on their environmental impact
  • understand the global capacity for each non-renewable energy source


Energy to illuminate, heat and cool our homes, businesses and institutions, manufacture products, and drive our transportation systems comes from a variety of sources that are originate from our planet and solar system. This provides a social and economic benefit to society. The earth’s core provides geothermal energy    . The gravitational pull of moon and sun create tides. The sun makes power in multiple ways. By itself, the sun generates direct solar power. The sun’s radiation in combination with the hydrologic cycle can make wind power and hydroelectric power. Through photosynthesis, plants grow making wood and biomass    that decay after they die into organic matter. Over the course of thousands of years, this decay results in fossil fuels that have concentrated or stored energy. To learn more about measuring different kinds of energy, known as emergy, see Chapter Problem-Solving, Metrics and Tools for Sustainability . Each of these types of energy can be defined as renewable or non-renewable fuels and they each have some environmental and health cost.

Fossil fuel reserves are not distributed equally around the planet, nor are consumption and demand. We will see in this chapter that fuel distribution is critical to the sustainability of fossil fuel resources for a given geographic area. Access to renewable resources and their viability is greatly dependent on geography and climate. Making energy requires an input of energy so it is important to look at the net energy generated – the difference of the energy produced less the energy invested.

Environmental and health challenges of energy use

The environmental impacts of energy use on humans and the planet can happen anywhere during the life cycle of the energy source. The impacts begin with the extraction of the resource. They continue with the processing, purification or manufacture of the source, its transportation to place of energy generation, effects from the generation of energy including use of water, air, and land, and end with the disposal of waste generated during the process. Extraction of fossil fuels, especially as the more conventional sources are depleted, takes a high toll on the natural environment. As we mine deeper into mountains, further out at sea, or further into pristine habitats, we risk damaging fragile environments, and the results of accidents or natural disasters during extraction processes can be devastating. Fossils fuels are often located far from where they are utilized so they need to be transported by pipeline, tankers, rail or trucks. These all present the potential for accidents, leakage and spills. When transported by rail or truck energy must be expended and pollutants are generated. Processing of petroleum, gas and coal generates various types of emissions and wastes, as well as utilizes water resources. Production of energy at power plants results in air, water, and, often, waste emissions. Power plants are highly regulated by federal and state law under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts , while nuclear power plants are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission . As long as the facilities are complying, much of the environmental impact is mitigated by treating the emissions and using proper waste disposal methods. However, from a sustainability perspective these still present environmental threats over the long run and have a complex variety of issues around them. Figure Environmental Impacts of Nonrenewable and Renewable Electricity Sources summarizes these challenges. Later in the module, they are described more fully for each source of energy and examples are given.

Questions & Answers

where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
Got questions? Join the online conversation and get instant answers!
Jobilize.com Reply
Practice Key Terms 9

Get Jobilize Job Search Mobile App in your pocket Now!

Get it on Google Play

Source:  OpenStax, Sustainability: a comprehensive foundation. OpenStax CNX. Nov 11, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11325/1.43
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Sustainability: a comprehensive foundation' conversation and receive update notifications?