New scientific device creates electricity from snowfall

New scientific device creates electricity from snowfall

UCLA researchers and colleagues have designed a first-of-its-kind nanogenerator that can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries. It also acts as a weather station. The researchers call it a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or snow TENG.

A triboelectric nanogenerator, which generates charge through static electricity, produces energy from the exchange of electrons. Snow is positively charged and gives up electrons. Silicone — a synthetic rubber-like material that is composed of silicon atoms and oxygen atoms, combined with carbon, hydrogen and other elements — is negatively charged.

When falling snow contacts the surface of silicone, that produces a charge that the device captures, creating electricity. About 30 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by snow each winter, during which time solar panels often fail to operate, El-Kady noted. The accumulation of snow reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches the solar array, limiting the panels’ power output and rendering them less effective.

The new device could be integrated into solar panels to provide a continuous power supply when it snows, he said. The device can be used for monitoring winter sports, such as skiing, to more precisely assess and improve an athlete’s performance when running, walking or jumping, Kaner said. It also has the potential for identifying the main movement patterns used in cross-country skiing, which cannot be detected with a smart watch.