What Is the Difference Between Minerals & Fossil Fuels?

A fossilized tree in the Petrified Forest of Arizona was once a living organism.
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The decomposition of formerly living organisms results in fossil fuel generation. Some of these organisms have been dead and buried for many millions of years. Minerals are inorganic substances that occur naturally and often form an exact crystalline structure.

Non-Renewable Resources

Because fossil fuels take many millions of years to form, they are non-renewable resources. It would take many millions more years to regenerate and replace a supply equal to the amount people now use daily. This is central to concerns of environmentally sensitive groups who now lobby for the use of renewable energy, which is readily available from sources such as sun, water and wind.

Use of fossil fuels creates amounts of carbon dioxide that twice exceed the amount that a natural process can absorb. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that enhances atmospheric radiation and raises the heat on Earth’s surface. Global warming is the culprit in major adverse changes that affect weather and ice melt.

Fossil Fuel Importance

A fossil fuel — including substances such as coal, natural gas and petroleum — has a high concentration of carbon. A fossil-based fuel burns hot and is capable of producing energy in significant amounts. Where windmills and waterwheels were the available energy supply for early industrial processes, the advent of fossil fuels was the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution.

Automobiles and trucks began using internal combustion engines, and the demand for fossil fuels in the form of gas and diesel oil increased. Fossil fuels play a large role in generating electricity. Tar is a byproduct of petroleum extraction, and road construction depends on tar's availability.

Six Crystal Groups

The six crystal groups define the properties of a mineral. All minerals have some of these properties, which include:

  • color
  • crystal
  • fracture
  • hardness
  • luster
  • specific gravity
  • tenacity

Some minerals might deviate from one or more of these groups, but there are limits of tolerance that come into play when defining a mineral.

Organic Minerals and Mineraloids

One mineraloid is mercury, which has no crystal structure because it is a liquid. Another is opal, which lacks a chemical formula and crystal structure. Because they lack vital elements of classification for minerals, minerologists classify them as mineraloids.

There is one other unique category, and that is the organic mineral. Although by definition a mineral is inorganic, several natural and rare organic substances have a distinctive chemical formula. The best example of this is whewellite.


The obvious difference is the distinction between organic and inorganic substances. Scientists are able to duplicate them in a laboratory, which are called synthetics. Minerals are a renewable resource.

Fossil fuels are organic in nature and fossilized over many million years. Using these diminishes supply, which takes many millions more years to replenish. Scientists are not able to duplicate these in a laboratory. Therefore, they classify fossil fuels as a non-renewable resource.

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