Solar panels have trouble producing renewable energy whenever it snows. With winters expected to increase in severity because of climate change, generating power in the cold, snowy season will likely become a major issue in years to come. Fortunately, scientists from UCLA just invented a way to produce energy from snow.
The researchers call their handy device a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator (snow TENG). It works by generating power via static electricity. As explained by the lead scientist on the project, Richard Kaner, static electricity happens when a material that likes to give up electrons comes into contact with a material that captures them. Snow naturally carries a positive charge and gives electrons away freely, making it the perfect material to generate power.
According to UCLA, the snow TENG is made out of silicone, which has a negative charge and actively captures positive electrons. Once the material gains positive electrons, the device gathers those charges and turns them into electricity.
“The device can work in remote areas, because it provides its own power and does not need batteries,” Kaner shared.
Kaner noted that the device does much more than produce renewable energy. The snow TENG can also calculate snow fall averages and tell you wind speed and direction. Kaner and his team hope to integrate their device into existing solar panels, which would give homeowners the option of producing plentiful energy throughout the year, not just in the warmer seasons.
In addition to generating electricity, the device can also be used to track performance in winter sports. The TENG can monitor things like jumping, walking or running and can be easily added to the bottom of shoes given its flexibility. With further development, it is possible that the snow TENG will lead to other athletic monitoring devices that are completely self-powered.
It is unclear when Kaner and his team plan to make their device available to the larger public. They produced the prototype using a 3D printer, an electrode and some silicone, making it one of the cheapest renewable energy devices on the market.
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