The "first-in-class" economic device can generate electricity from snowfall

Researchers have developed a unique device that can generate electricity from falling snow.

The low-cost device, which was developed by UCLA scientists, is 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 lead author Richard Kaner. "It's a very smart device, a weather station that can tell you how much snow is falling, in what direction it's falling and the direction and speed of the wind."

The researchers call it a triboelectric nanogenerator based on snow, or snow TENG. A triboelectric nanogenerator, which generates charge through static electricity, produces energy from the exchange of electrons.

The findings about the device are published in the magazine. Nano energy.

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"Static electricity is produced from the interaction of a material that captures electrons and another that abandons electrons," said Kaner, who is also a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of science and materials engineering at UCLA. "You separate charges and create electricity from nothing."

The snow is positively charged and abandons the electrons. Silicone, a material similar to synthetic rubber that is composed of silicon atoms and oxygen atoms, combined with carbon, hydrogen and other elements, is negatively charged. When the snow falls in contact with the surface of the silicone, it produces a charge that the device captures, creating electricity.

"The snow is already loaded; so we think, why not bring another material with the opposite charge and extract the charge to generate electricity? "Said co-author Maher El-Kady, a postdoctoral researcher in chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA.

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"While snow likes to give up electrons, the performance of the device depends on the efficiency of the other material to extract these electrons," he added. "After testing a lot of materials, including aluminum and Teflon sheets, we found that silicone produces more load than any other material."

About 30% of the Earth's surface is covered with snow each winter, during which solar panels often do not work, El-Kady noted. The accumulation of snow reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the solar array, which limits the output power of the panels and makes them less effective. The new device could be integrated into the solar panels to provide a continuous power supply when it snows, he said.

Photo by Abdelsalam Ahmed / UCLA

The device can be used to monitor winter sports, such as skiing, to more accurately badess and improve an athlete's performance when running, walking or jumping, Kaner said. It also has the potential to identify the main movement patterns used in cross-country skiing, which can not be detected with a smart watch.

It could give way to a new generation of self-powered portable devices to track athletes and their performances.

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You can also send signals, which indicate whether a person is moving. It can indicate when a person is walking, running, jumping or marching.

The research team used 3D printing to design the device, which has a silicone layer and an electrode to capture the charge. The team believes that the device could be produced at low cost given the "ease of manufacture and availability of silicone," said Kaner. Silicone is widely used in industry, in products such as lubricants, insulation of electric cables and biomedical implants, and now has the potential for energy collection.

Reprinted from the UCLA press room

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