6Earth’s Energy Sources

What natural resources are used to create energy in Ohio and how are those processes related to the carbon cycle?



Most of Earth’s energy resources are derived from previous and current natural processes in which solar energy from the Sun is either stored or directly used. Energy resources derived from our Sun includes direct solar power, coal, oil, natural gas, biomass, wind, and hydropower. Earth’s energy resources can be defined as renewable or nonrenewable. Nonrenewable energy resources are those stored over millions of years in geologic time and once used cannot be readily replaced by natural means relative to their rate of consumption. Nonrenewable energy resources stored in different forms of carbon created from plants and animals include peat, coal, oil, and natural gas. Renewable energy resources can be replenished or replaced in a time that is relatively equal to or less than the time it takes to consume the supply. Renewable energy resources include things such as biomass, wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy.


According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration Ohio is among the top 10 states in total energy consumption in the Nation. Ohio’s energy needs are derived from both renewable and nonrenewable energy resources. Nonrenewable energy resources such as natural gas, coal, and oil supply the majority of Ohioans daily energy needs. Renewable energy resources such as wind, biomass, solar, and hydroelectric power, currently supply about 7% of Ohio’s energy needs, with nuclear power fulfilling the remaining.


Nonrenewable Energy Resources


Coal is the nonrenewable energy resource primarily used for fuel for electricity generation in Ohio. Eight of Ohio’s 10 largest power plants by capacity are coal-fired. In recent years, coal’s share of generation and the number of coal-fired power plants in the state has decreased. In 2015, 15% of the state’s coal-fired generation capacity was retired. However, coal still fuels more than half of the state’s electricity generation. Coal has a higher concentration of carbon emissions as compared natural gas when combusted for electric generation.


Natural gas is the fastest growing nonrenewable energy resource in Ohio and is used to fuel electric generating facilities, fuel natural gas powered vehicles, provide heating, and is used in industrial manufacturing applications across the state. Ohio’s total current combined coal, natural gas, and nuclear electric generating capacity is 25,000 Megawatts, with coal accounting for 59%, natural gas contributing, 23%, and nuclear 14%. Ohio’s natural gas reserves and production have increased substantially in recent years. In 2015, natural gas production in Ohio was more than 12 times greater than in 2011, rising from less than1% of the nation’s total to 3% of the total. Much of the additional natural gas production is from the extraction of gas from the Utica Shale using modern horizontal drilling and completion technology that allow for the safe and efficient production of gas from a single well over large areas. One horizontal gas well can now produce what previously took several wells. 


Crude oil in Ohio is primarily refined into products such as engine lubricants, plastics, and gasoline. Crude oil production and proved reserves in Ohio are modest, although greater than any other Appalachian Basin state except Alabama. Ohio’s crude oil production was less than 10 million barrels annually for most of the past 25 years, but increased drilling using advanced technologies resulted in a 30-year high of more than 14 million barrels in 2014. Production almost doubled to more than 26 million barrels in 2015, but it is still less than 1% of the nation’s total. Ohio’s proved crude oil reserves reached a 28-year high of 78 million barrels in 2014. Drilling in the Utica Shale formation accounts for much of the increase, and it has significantly added to Ohio’s production and reserve base. Ohio is consistently among the top 10 oil-refining states in the nation. 


Renewable Energy Resources


Ohio has a diverse biomass energy resource that has been utilized since Native Americans and Settlers first utilized our abundant forests. There are 20 separate small-scale biomass-fueled power plants in Ohio. Biomass from wood and wood waste, municipal solid waste, landfill gas, and biodigester derived gas is utilized for Ohio’s net electricity generation and home and business heating needs. 


Biomass in the form of corn and soybeans in Ohio has also been increasingly used over the last two decades to create ethanol and biodiesel to power Ohioans transportation needs. Ohio is the seventh-largest ethanol-producing state in the nation. All but one of the state’s nine ethanol plants use corn as a feedstock. The remaining plant uses waste industrial alcohol. Ohio’s ethanol plants produce almost 530 million gallons of ethanol per year, and the state’s share of U.S.ethanol consumption is almost equal to its share of the nation’s production capacity. Ohio has two biodiesel plants that process soy oil into biofuels. The combined capacity of the two plants is about 65 million gallons per year. 


Wind turbine facilities provide one of the largest shares of energy production from renewable energy resources in Ohio, and net generation from wind in the state has increased dramatically since Ohio’s first utility-scale wind farm was constructed in Bowling Green in 2004. Ohio has approximately 400 Megawatts of installed utility-scale wind powered installations. 


Electricity derived from solar panel projects in Ohio is currently 118 Mega Watts. This ranks Ohio as the 23rd in the Nation for installed solar capacity. The solar power derived from these projects can provide enough energy for approximately 14,000 Ohio homes. 


Hydroelectric facilities provide 130 Megawatts of electricity capacity statewide. Solar, wind, and hydroelectric power have some of the lowest carbon emissions as compared to other energy resources in Ohio. 


Carbon Cycle


Carbon is a critical chemical element in the utilization of our energy resources in Ohio and the world. The Carbon Cycle is a model that relates the amounts of carbon in the atmosphere, oceans, and crust to the processes that change those amounts. The processes involved in the carbon cycle have been dynamic over the geologic history of the earth and in modern history, and are the focus of many scientists in Ohio and throughout the world. The carbon cycle involves the movement of carbon among the Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, ecosystems, and geosphere. Carbon is present in the Earth’s atmosphere as both carbon dioxide (CO2) and in smaller quantities of methane gas (CH4). Carbon is a fundamental building block of life and an important component of many other chemical processes. Processes that predominantly produce CO2 are defined as sources, and processes that take in or store CO2 are sinks (reservoirs). The utilization of Ohio’s nonrenewable and renewable energy resources all have an impact on the carbon cycle. http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=OH


Through the process of absorption and photosynthesis carbon is absorbed by plants and animals, with plants releasing oxygen into the environment and animals consuming oxygen. Some of the carbon remains in the plants and animals. When the plants die, decay or are burned, CO2 is returned to the atmosphere. In some sedimentary basins the accumulation and burial of dead plant material that has not been decayed back into CO2 is deposited as sediments. When a large amount of plant material (biomass) is buried with sediment over long periods of geologic time some of these carbon rich deposits become layers of coal or are converted into hydrocarbons such as natural gas. When many sea dwelling animals die their degradable remains are entombed into marine sediments and are then converted into oil by heat and pressure over geologic time during sediment accumulation. When sea creatures with hard parts such as calcareous shells (seashells) die these remains can also accumulate as sediments and form tremendous limestone deposits. The Earth’s crust stores the largest amount of carbon in a variety of different rock types, with limestone’s and shales being the largest carbon sinks in the earth’s crust. The earth’s ecosystems, oceans, and atmosphere are the most dynamic portions of the carbon cycle where source and sink carbon balances change over geologic time, decades, and annually or even daily. Annual growth of northern hemisphere forest such as in Ohio which take in CO2 during the summer at higher rates than in the winter are an example of annual changes in carbon intake into the ecosystem sink. 



  • Respiration: CO2 released by plants and animals
  • Decay: decomposers break down organic materials releasing CO2
  • Combustion: burning any substance such as wood or coal that contains Carbon releases CO2


Sinks (reservoirs)

  • Atmosphere: mostly in the form of CO2
  • Plants: Photosynthesis
  • Soil and Organic Matter: Carbon stored in the dead plant material
  • Coal, oil, gas: Hydrocarbons stored in fossil fuels
  • Ocean: Ocean water absorbs CO2 from atmosphere; microscopic plants (phytoplankton) take up CO2, shelled organisms take up CO2 to form shells
  • Sediments/Sedimentary Rock: sediments containing Calcium Carbonates from shells and carbon from decaying phytoplankton can turn into rock, some trapped carbon can turn into oil and gas.