Can Snow Serve a Useful Purpose?

UCLA researchers have created a simple device that generates electricity by harvesting electrons from falling snow.
UCLA researchers have created a simple device that generates electricity by harvesting electrons from falling snow.

If you live in a region where snow is a four-letter word, chances are you can't wait for the arrival of warm spring days when you won't see any more of the white stuff. However, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have discovered that snow can actually serve a useful purpose -- besides bringing kids joy on snow days.

The researchers found that falling snowflakes generate clean, free energy when they come into contact with silicone. The flakes are positively charged, and when they alight onto negatively charged silicone, the transfer of electrons produces energy, à la static electricity. The researchers call the device a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or snow TENG. Silicone is cheap, and snowflakes are free, so they hope that the concept could one day produce low-cost electricity in large quantities.

Snow power:

  • Static electricity occurs when one substance gives up electrons, and another substance captures them. “You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing," UCLA researcher Richard Kaner explains.

  • The research team used 3D printers to make the nanogenerator, which has a layer of flexible silicone and an electrode to capture the charge.

  • Silicone, a synthetic rubber-like material, is widely used in industrial products such as lubricants, electrical wire insulation, and biomedical implants.

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Discussion Comments

anon1004524

Can this device for capturing electrons from snow, usefully charge something (capacitor, battery)? Or, do work (rotate an armature?..)? Thanks.

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    • UCLA researchers have created a simple device that generates electricity by harvesting electrons from falling snow.
      UCLA researchers have created a simple device that generates electricity by harvesting electrons from falling snow.