Best in snow: New scientific device creates electricity from snowfall

snowfall
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

UCLA researchers and colleagues 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.

"The 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 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 , produces energy from the exchange of electrons.

Findings about the device are published in the journal Nano Energy.

"Static 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 and engineering, and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute 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 , that produces a charge that the device captures, creating electricity.

Best in snow: New scientific device creates electricity from snowfall
Hiking shoe with device attached. Credit: Abdelsalam Ahmed

"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 including aluminum foils and Teflon, we found that silicone produces more charge than any other material."

About 30 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by snow each winter, during which time often fail to operate, El-Kady noted. The accumulation of 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.

It could usher in a new generation of self-powered wearable devices for tracking athletes and their performances.

It can also send signals, indicating whether a person is moving. It can tell when a person is walking, running, jumping or marching.

The research team used 3-D printing to design the device, which has a layer of silicone and an electrode to capture the charge. The team believes the device could be produced at low cost given "the ease of fabrication and the availability of silicone," Kaner said. Silicone is widely used in industry, in products such as lubricants, electrical wire insulation and biomedical implants, and it now has the potential for energy harvesting.


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More information: Abdelsalam Ahmed et al. All printable snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, Nano Energy (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2019.03.032
Journal information: Nano Energy

Citation: Best in snow: New scientific device creates electricity from snowfall (2019, April 15) retrieved 19 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-scientific-device-electricity-snowfall.html
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Apr 16, 2019
"You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing."

NO. The charges come from friction, NOT "nothing". The amount of friction energy from snowflakes gently falling on and rubbing against a surface that can be converted to electrical energy must be truly pathetic so, as a power supply to rival that of solar, this idea is a total failure and certainly isn't worth having a whole article (like this one) written about it.

Apr 16, 2019
May the Current be with you

A very good idea
energy from snow fall
the movement of electrons
through this atomic substructure in which we inhabit
this idea has allsorts of application
not just snow
as other materials are susceptible to this flow of charges
the question is
when this silicone is covered in deep snow
Does this current still flow

Apr 16, 2019
How good this is, depends on how many microwatts of energy it produces. Somehow, given that it's not mentioned in the article, I'm guessing the amount of electricity produced is currently not enough to be useful.

Apr 16, 2019
I'm guessing the amount of electricity produced is currently not enough to be useful.

It seems to be enough to power a weather station - and weather stations are useful...

Apr 18, 2019
Actually collection of static electricity has been a goal for a very long time with limited results normally. Something like this, if made into panels that are set at an angle to the prevailing wind pattern, would be able to collect the energy from the passing snow as it gets lifted by the wind ground effect.

It is like solar, where there is only so much energy per square foot, there will be similar dispersion of the static electricity, but, one can notice that uncollected, static electricity creates some rather awesome displays of millions of volts and hundreds of K's amperage. Lightning storms are the awesome result.

There is a LOT of energy in 'static electricity', and this is finally a way to tap into it, and it being a Cold Weather solution is even better. Imagine how well this would work with the winds and constantly moving ice in Antarctica, even without sunlight this would provide ample power.

Dealing with snow/ice buildup is just engineering shape and placement.

Apr 18, 2019
"You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing."

If all you want is electricity out of nothing, look into artificial lightning from the excess aqueous electron, e(aq), aka low energy pair production.

But it's not really "nothing", it'll cost you two photons, certain VIS or UV will do. And it's glassy water ice, not snow, but this is pretty close.

Why this has gone unnoticed since the 1990s is beyond me. It's the ideal breakthrough energy generation and storage solution, IMO.

Start here: "Multiphoton Ionization of Liquid Water with 3.0-5.0 eV Photons" http://pubs.acs.o...e=jpchax

Apr 19, 2019
This has us thinking about architectural and urban planning applications such as snow removal equipment, snow melting surfaces, roof systems, car systems - I can see multiple applications - https://www.bbc.c...27021291

Apr 19, 2019
Make me a self-powered silicon winter jacket to keep me toasty warm during a blizzard.

Apr 19, 2019
Make me a self-powered silicon winter jacket to keep me toasty warm during a blizzard.


Make it yourself.

Apr 23, 2019
The Kelvin water dropper, invented by Scottish scientist William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) in 1867, is a type of electrostatic generator.

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