Researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind device that can generate electricity from falling snow.
The inexpensive device, which was developed by UCLA scientists, is small, thin, and flexible like a sheet of plastic.
"The device can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries," said senior author Richard Kaner. "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.
Findings about the device are published in the journal Nano Energy.
"Static electricity occurs from the interaction of one material that captures electrons and another that gives up electrons," said Kaner, who is also a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering at UCLA. "You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing."
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.
"Snow is already charged; so we thought, why not bring another material with the opposite charge and extract the charge to create electricity?" said co-author Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher of chemistry and biochemistry.
"While snow likes to give up electrons, the performance of the device depends on the efficiency of the other material at extracting these electrons," he added. "After testing a large number of materials including aluminum foils and Teflon, we found that silicone produces more charge than any other material."