Harvesting solar energy can be a tough job for panels if they are buried under blankets of snow. That is why a team from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has developed a new device that can produce electricity from snow itself.
The device is a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator or “Snow TENG”. As the name suggests, it works with the triboelectric effect, this means it uses static electricity to generate a charge through the exchange of electrons. These kinds of devices have been used to make generators that pull energy from body movements, touchscreens, and even footsteps on floors.
Snow usually has a positive charge and releases electrons. This device has a negative charge and the ability to capture these electrons. After gathering these charges it turns them into electricity.
The problem is that the Snow TENG produces a pretty tiny amount of electricity in its current form – it has a power density of 0.2 mW per square meter. That means you won’t really be hooking that up to the grid like a solar panel, but it could make for small, self-powered weather sensors.
“The device can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries,” says Richard Kaner, senior author of the study. “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 give other examples like a sensor that could be attached to the bottom of boots or skis and used to collect data for winter sports.
The research was published in the journal Nano Energy.