Fossil Fuels: What Will Happen When We Run Out? 3 Energy Sector Implications
Whether you’re a sustainability devotee or an energy aficionado, you’re likely wondering what will happen when we run out of fossil fuels.
You’re not alone. A recent study found that 69% of Americans prioritize alternative energy production over fossil fuel expansion, a crucial step in preventing energy market turbulence and other climate impacts.
This article will explore what we’re up against if fossil fuel reserves run out. We’ll break down the impacts of oil, coal, and natural gas depletion and explore renewable energy solutions that can right the ship.
It’s important to stay positive despite decreasing fossil fuel availability. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the future of alternative energy is bright.
Fossil Fuel Inventory Implications
Fossil fuels are derived from decomposed plants and animals buried beneath the Earth’s surface hundreds of millions of years ago.
There are three fossil fuel products:
- Oil – Oil is a solid material found between rock layers. After extraction, oil solids are heated to form a thick liquid used to create fuels, plastics, and other products.
- Coal – Coal is also a solid typically found between sedimentary rock deposits and layers of buried plant and animal matter.
- Natural gas – Natural gas, primarily made of methane, is generally found in small pockets above oil deposits. But it can also be derived from sedimentary rock layers that don’t contain oil or coal solids.
What happens when one or more of these resources run out? Let’s explore the specific implications of each.
Arguably the most impactful results of depleted oil reserves will be observed in the transportation sector, as oil supplies about 96% of the world’s transportation energy.
An oil shortage won’t just keep you from filling up your car. You’ll also observe standstills in:
- Public transit systems
- Cross-country and international travel
- Distribution and shipping infrastructure
- Production of petroleum-based goods, like:
- Energy production and availability
Running out of oil would also pose a significant economic threat, particularly to the United States, where:
- Fossil fuels provide 80% of energy nationwide
- The fossil fuel industry supplied more than 12 million jobs
- Fossil fuels are projected to produce $1.6 trillion in tax revenue between 2012 and 2025
Luckily, experts at Stanford University and beyond estimate that our current supply of oil won’t reach critical lows until 2052, giving energy experts plenty of time to innovate and roll out alternative solutions.
In the United States, coal is primarily used to generate electricity in power plants.
As of 2019, the US Energy Administration estimated that approximately 23% of the country’s electricity was generated from coal-burning power plants.
So, when coal runs out, the country could face an electricity crisis that could halt commerce, education, healthcare facilities, and nearly every facet of everyday life.
3. Natural Gas
Natural gas fuels about 32% of the US’s total energy consumption, powering:
- Electricity production
- Industrial facilities and functions
- The commercial sector
- Residential energy consumption
Natural gas—like fossil fuel products—is a lynchpin of energy production in the US. When natural gas runs out, the world will have to rely on alternative fuels for power.
Solutions to the Fossil Fuel Crisis
While we have time to develop alternative energy solutions, the world’s fossil fuel reserves won’t last another century at our current consumption rate.
This only exacerbates the importance of investing in alternative energy solutions—the cure for the fossil fuel crisis. Innovations must continue in:
- Hydrogen – Demand for hydrogen as a fuel source has grown more than threefold since 1975 and continues to rise. Hydrogen could reach almost a quarter of global energy consumption by 2050, with strong government policies promoting it.
- CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) – CNG fuel is becoming more popular, powering over 12 million vehicles on the road today. CNG is a low-cost transportation fuel alternative, costing about 50% less than conventional fuels and creating up to 97% fewer carbon emissions.
- Biofuels – Biofuels are non-fossil fuels made from plant matter, water, vegetable oils, and animal fats. Biofuels have the potential to run vehicles and other engine-based machinery.
- Alternative electricity production – Hydroelectric, solar, and wind power all have the potential to replace fossil-based electricity production entirely, but they still need to be implemented at scale.
- Renewable materials – The US generated over 35 million tons of plastics in 2018 alone. Plastics are made from oil, so renewable resources must grow in availability within the next few decades to prevent material shortages.
Alternative Energy: Reliable Now and In The Future
Fossil fuels are running out. Luckily, the world’s innovators are tirelessly working to solve the energy crisis and secure a bright, stable future.
Scaling up alternative energy solutions is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Here at FASTECH, we’re making it easier than ever to design, build, and supply alternative refueling stations and other green energy infrastructure.
Throughout our 25 years in the industry, we’ve built over 35 hydrogen fueling stations and more than 200 compressed natural gas stations -- and we’re just getting started. We’re excited to introduce clean energy solutions countrywide.
When you’re ready to start your next clean energy project, reach out to us for expert guidance.