Researchers from UCLA, in collaboration with colleagues from other institutions, have recently developed a small, flexible, and inexpensive device capable of generating electric power from snowfall and requiring no batteries.
“The device can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries,” said senior author Richard Kaner. “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.”
In a paper out in the journal Nano Energy, the research team refer to their invention as a snow-based triboelectric nano-generator (or snow-TENG) which operates by capturing the charge resulting from the contraction of silicone when it comes into contact with snow.
“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.
The device could eventually be used in combination with solar panels which become much less effective during winter due to snow coverage, and even contribute to ushering in a new generation of wearable devices for athletes.
“In addition, the snow-TENG can be used as a wearable power source and biomechanical sensor to detect human body motions, which may prove useful for snow-related sports,” wrote the researchers in their paper.
The 3D-printed gadget is made of silicone – which the research team determined to be superior than many other tested materials at producing an electric charge – with an electrode to capture it.
Given the popularity of the material, widely used for industrial applications, mass-producing the new device is expected to be very inexpensive.