Novel Device Creates Electricity from Snowfall

Scientists have developed a new device that can generate electricity from falling snow. Called a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or snow TENG, the first of its kind device is small, thin and flexible. It is also quite inexpensive to produce and very practical.

“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 triboelectric nanogenerator takes advantage of the energy produced from the exchange of electrons.

“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, and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

“You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing.”

How does the device work?

The device functions with simple elegance. It takes advantage of the fact that snow is positively charged and silicone is negatively charged. When the falling snow comes into contact with the silicone, a charge is produced that can be used for 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 assistant 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.”

Now, El-Kady believes the new device can be integrated into solar panels to continue to generate electricity even when the snow covers them. El-Kady even sees potential applications in self-powered wearable devices for tracking athletes. The novel device has been engineered to tell when a person is moving.

The researchers used 3-D printing to make the device and they argue it can be produced at the low cost given “the ease of fabrication and the availability of silicone.”


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