LOS ANGELES: In a bizarre innovation scientists at the University of Los Angeles has made a tool that will generate energy from snow and will help to overcome electricity dearth.
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 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 researchers call it a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or snow TENG. A triboelectric nanogenerator, which generates charge through static electricity, produces energy from the exchange of electrons.“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 silicone, that produces a charge that the device captures, creating 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 aluminium foils and Teflon, we found that silicone produces more charge than any other material.”About 30 per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered by snow each winter, during which time solar panels often fail to operate, El-Kady noted. The accumulation of snow 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 smartwatch.