Examples of renewable resources can be seen daily around the world. Putting an emphasis on renewable and sustainable resources, for energy as well as other material goods, can make a big environmental impact by creating a smaller environmental footprint.
What Makes a Resource Renewable?
A renewable resource is defined as a natural resource that renews itself at a rate that is faster, or equal to the rate of consumption. Renewable resources differ from resources that once depleted never return, such as fossil fuels. Renewable resources can include perpetually sustainable resources that never run out, such as solar power, as well as renewable commodities like paper. The use and cultivation of renewable resources helps to minimize the impact humanity has on the Earth, while ensuring continued survival.
In many cases, commodities such as foods and building materials can become renewable when steps are taken to harvest them at specific rates. In other words, it is possible to regulate consumption and growth of resources to ensure a resource is not depleted before it has time to renew itself.
In some cases, renewable resources and recycling can go hand-in-hand. Paper, for example, can be a renewable resource when enough time is given for trees to reseed and replenish harvested forests. While recycling of non-renewable resources, such as metals, can simply extend their life span, recycling of paper can give the time required for a forest to renew itself, thereby making paper, wood and trees a renewable resource.
List of Types of Renewable Resources
Examples of renewable resources can be broken down into three categories: Those that are sustainable or inexhaustible, those that are naturally renewable, and those that can be renewable with careful planning and harvesting.
Sustainable resources are defined as resources that are perpetually renewable. These resources can be used indefinitely with no care or action taken to renew them.
- Solar energy
- Wind power
- Geothermal power
Renewable resources are those that naturally replenish themselves at a sustainable rate.
- Alcohols derived from corn, sugarcane and grass
- Oils from plants and seeds
- Naturally occurring methane gases
- Bioenergy from biomasses, such as landfills or animal waste used to produce energy
- Thermal energy conversion
Renewable commodities are those items that are depleted, but can be carefully regulated and replaced to make them sustainable. Careful harvesting, planting and recycling can make commodities renewable that might otherwise be lost.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meats from animals
- Ground water
Six Major Renewable Energy Sources
As power consumption continues to grow, finding efficient, green and never-ending sources of energy becomes even more critical. There are six of these sources that currently show a lot of potential for power production.
1. Wind Power
Power is generated from the wind by converting the speed of the wind into electricity. The faster the wind travels, the more electricity can be generated. Four percent of the energy used each year in the United States originates from wind power. The percentage may seem small, but the use of wind turbines is expected to increase in the future, both on land and in the ocean.
The two main types of wind turbine designs that work to generate power are vertical axis and horizontal axis.
- Vertical Axis - This type of turbine operates with its main rotator shaft arranged vertically. A vertical axis turbine works well for areas with that have variable wind speeds.
- Horizontal Axis - This turbine type has a rotating shaft mounted horizontally on a vertical tower or pole. This turbine works well in flat, large areas such as a field or ocean.
Harnessing power from water is another way to generate renewable energy. The force of gravity and the flow of water work together to generate electricity that can potentially provide around twenty percent of the world's energy needs. Hydropower works as a dynamic source of energy as it can be harnessed in multiple ways:
- Hydroelectric - This type of power is extracted from the gravitational pull of water falling from a higher source, such as using a waterfall to generate energy.
- Tidal power - This type of power is generated by the tides of oceans and seas.
- Damless hydropower - This type of power is extracted from the natural flow of rivers.
3. Geothermal Energy
Scientists can convert heat produced from beneath the Earth's crust to generate geothermal energy. Digging beneath the surface and using some of that heat can provide people with a vast amount of energy. There are a few different methods currently available that can tap into this source of power to generate energy.
- Dry steam - Power plants around the world take the steam that pours out of fault lines and fractures in the ground and uses it to power turbines to generate energy.
- Flash steam- Water below the ground can heat in excess of 200 degrees Celsius. Scientists have found that by letting the water boil up through the ground to produce steam can generate power for a turbine to generate electricity.
- Binary cycle - Hot water gets pumped through a heat exchanger which heats up a liquid with a low boiling point such as butane. The butane is boiled at a low temperature which converts to steam and powers turbines which generate electricity. The cool water then gets pumped back into the Earth to repeat the process.
4. Solar Energy
By using a method called photovoltaics, researchers found they can generate electrical power by funneling the sun through a specific medium like copper or silicon to harness the energy from solar radiation. Energy from the sun is harnessed in two ways: active solar and passive solar.
- Active solar involves capturing and redistributing sunlight through the use of solar panels, pumps or solar fans to generate power.
- Passive solar works to reduce the amount of energy traditionally used to power a location, such as a building or house. Examples of using passive solar power include building a house in the natural direction of sunlight to trap heat and using airtight windows, walls and floor structures in a manner that generates passive energy.
Burning plants can also generate energy. As plants grow, they use the process of photosynthesis to thrive and grow. The photosynthesis process generates energy and when burned, plants release their energy. Dead plant matter and residue can also transfer into a renewable energy source by applying heat.
The fermentation process also can generate power in the form of biofuel. By fermenting the sugars in plants and plant matter, scientists have discovered that they can generate an alcohol called ethanol. This type of fuel is commonly generated from crops that contain a high amount of sugars and starches.
Additionally scientists found that by combining alcohol with animal fat or vegetable oil they can generate another type of fuel called biodiesel. Researchers have found that biodiesel can be used alone, or it can be combined with petrodiesel.
The Shift Toward Sustainable and Renewable Goods
Renewable resources are crucial to the continued survival of life on Earth. When non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels, have been depleted, renewable resources will be required to keep things going.
While some types of renewable commoditieshave been cultivated for years, others are just beginning to see practical use. As recycling becomes more important, so does the harvesting of sustainable powers, such as those generated by oceans, wind and solar power.
Wind turbines, the harvesting of heat from the Earth's surface, the power generated from the ocean tides, and the energy from the sun are all ways that sustainable resources can be brought into play on a daily basis. Use of these resources not only can halt depletion of the Earth's commodities, but can also improve the quality of life on Earth.
Examples of renewable resources can be found everywhere, from windmills to solar panels and from cornfields to forests. Renewable resources are what keep life going. Without sustainable and renewable resources, the Earth's natural resources would eventually be exhausted and life would come to an end.
By investing in renewable resources to help take the burden off of non-renewable commodities, you can improve life on Earth for yourself and for generations to come.