Science 3 min read

New Device Creates Electricity From Snowfall

JillWellington / Pixabay

JillWellington / Pixabay

Researchers and colleagues at UCLA have designed a nanogenerator which not only acts as a weather station but can also generate electricity from falling snow.

Aside from being small and thin, the snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator (or snow TENG) is also as flexible as a sheet of plastic.

Also, since it provides its own power and does not need batteries, the nanogenerator can work in remote areas.

Senior author Richard Kaner who holds UCLA’s Dr. Myung Ki Hong Endowed Chair in Materials Innovation noted;

“It’s a very clever device — a weather station that can tell you how much snow is falling, the direction the snow is falling, and the direction and speed of the wind.”

How the Snow-Based Triboelectric Nanogenerator Works

Boot with the device attached. | Image Credit: Abdelsalam Ahmed

According to the publication in the Journal Nano Energy, the device is a triboelectric generator, which generates charge through static electricity.

Kaner explained that:

“static electricity occurs from the interaction of one material that captures electrons and another that gives up electrons. ”

The whole ensemble requires Silicone, which is negatively charged, and the positively charged snow.

That means, when falling snow comes in contact with the surface of the silicone, it creates a charge. The device captures this charge to produce electricity.

Postdoctoral researcher of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA and co-author of the study, Maher El-Kady said; 

“Snow is already charged, so we thought, why not bring another material with the opposite charge and extract the charge to create electricity?”

According to the researcher, the performance of the nanogenerator depends on the efficiency of the other material extracting the electron.

So, before settling for Silicone, the researchers considered other materials such as Teflon and aluminum foil. However, they soon discovered that they could produce more charge with silicone than with any other material.

Possible Applications of the Snow-Based Triboelectric Nanogenerator

During winter, snow covers about 30 percent of the Earth’s surface.

Unfortunately, it also reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches solar arrays. That means, solar panels’ output are often lower and become ineffective as a source of energy.

By integrating the new device into solar panels, users can enjoy a continuous power supply when it snows.

Also, the researchers believe it could serve other purposes in winter sports. For example, during skiing, athletes can use it to assess and improve performance when walking, running or jumping.

Unlike the current smartwatches, the device also has the potential to identify the primary movement patterns in cross-country skiing, said Kaner.

Read More: Scientists Use Electrical Pulses to Boost Human Memory

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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