Coal is a carbon-rich rock formed from plants that grew millions of years ago. Coal is a major source of electricity in the United States and the largest source of energy for electricity generation worldwide.
Coal is a rich source of energy formed from plants that grew in swamps tens to hundreds of millions of years ago. The plants were buried deeply under younger and younger layers of dirt and rock, heated, and compressed into a carbon-rich rock. Burning coal releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than any other fossil fuel. Read more
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All of the energy we use comes from the Earth, its atmosphere, or the Sun. Some resources are mined or extracted, like coal, uranium, oil, and gas. Others, like wind, solar, tidal, biomass, and hydropower resources, are harnessed at the Earth’s surface. Geoscientists play an essential role in developing energy resources and evaluating their environmental impacts.
Geothermal energy is harvested by drilling into underground reservoirs of steam or water heated by the Earth. While western states like California and Nevada lead the country in geothermal energy production, emerging technologies may make it possible to extract geothermal energy throughout the United States.
Hydraulic fracturing is a technique used in one step of the extraction of energy resources. Sometimes referred to as "fracking," its wide application over the last decade has led to debate over its risks and benefits.
Hydropower uses the energy from moving water to power machines or generate electricity. Used for over two thousand years in water mills, today hydropower is more commonly associated with electricity generation.
Global demand is rising for mineral resources of all kinds, including metals, industrial minerals, and solid fuels like coal. Mineral resources are unequally distributed around the globe, reflecting the vast differences in geology of different parts of the Earth. Geoscientists play an essential role in locating mineral resources and designing processes for their safe extraction.
Nuclear energy is produced from fission, which splits the large atoms of heavy elements like uranium into smaller atoms, releasing enormous amounts of energy. Thirty U.S. states have nuclear power plants, and nuclear energy makes up around 20% of the U.S. electricity supply.
Petroleum ("oil") and natural gas are hydrocarbons that formed over millions of years under heat and pressure deep in the Earth. Petroleum and natural gas are the largest sources of energy in the United States.
Renewable energy comes from sources that are constantly replenished, like running water, the heat of the Earth, the Sun's light, or wind. Renewables account for around 11% of U.S. energy consumption and 17% of electricity production.
Solar energy is energy from the Sun, which can be harnessed in several ways. Solar panels use the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity directly from sunlight. The Sun’s heat can be used directly to heat water or air, or it can be concentrated to boil water, driving steam turbines that generate electricity.