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A Device to Generate Electricity from Snow

Researchers see a natural application in pairing the snow-TENG with solar panels to generate power when snowfall lowers the output of photovoltaics.

Here’s a bit of ingenuity in action to add to your collection of all the ways to generate some electricity. A group of researchers have designed a new device that creates electricity from falling snow. The first of its kind, this device is inexpensive, small, thin and flexible like a sheet of plastic, says a Eurekalert release from UCLA.

“The device can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries,” said senior author Richard Kaner, who holds UCLA’s Dr. Myung Ki Hong Endowed Chair in Materials Innovation. “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.”

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.

The idea is that snow is positively charged and gives up electrons. The device uses silicone, which is negatively charged (chosen after testing many other materials) to generate a static charge and captures it with an electrode. The device can generate an instantaneous output power density as high as 0.2 mW/m2, an open circuit voltage up to 8 V, and a current density of 40 μA/m2, according to the paper, published in the journal Nano Energy.

The uses proposed for the snow-TENG device are diverse and interesting, mostly wearable devices for tracking athletes and remote power applications. Researchers see a natural application in pairing the snow-TENG with solar panels to generate power when snowfall lowers the output of photovoltaics.

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