Can we generate electricity from snow?

From wind turbines to solar panels, innovative energy production is one way some are working to disrupt climate change. In this spirit, UCLA researchers developed a device that creates electricity from snowfall—the snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator (snow TENG).

Snow TENG generates a charge via static electricity by producing energy from an exchange of electrons with the snow, according to an article from the UCLA Newsroom by Stuart Wolpert titled “Best in snow: New scientific device creates electricity from snowfall.”

“Static electricity occurs from the interaction of one material that captures electrons and another that gives up electrons. You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing,” senior author Richard Kaner said in the article.

When positively charged snow contacts the surface of the negatively charged silicone device, the device captures the produced charge, thus creating energy. They used 3-D printing to design the device, which is made of a layer of silicone with an electrode to capture the charge, the article reports.

Various materials, including aluminum foils and Teflon, were tested for the device, but the team found that silicon could produce more negative charge than any other material.

The team notes a variety of applications for their device, highlighting that during snowfall, solar panels can fail to operate, because the snow can stop sunlight from reaching the solar array. However, if the new device was integrated into solar panels, they could help to provide continuous power even when snow has covered the panel, the article reports.

They also list applications such as monitoring winter sports, improving athlete’s performance, and potential use for self-powered wearable devices.

The research was published in the Journal Nano Energy.