You’ve heard of using wind turbines or sunshine to generate electricity… but scientists have now developed a one-of-a-kind device that can use snowfall to generate electricity!
This device, which is called a Snow-based Triboelectric Nanogenerator, (or Snow TENG), capitalizes on the fact that snow is positively charged. Findings about this device were recently published in the journal Nano Energy.
What’s the science behind it all? Well, the principles of the triboelectric effect state that electrical charge is generated after two materials come into contact with one another, so by bringing snow into contact with silicone (which is negatively charged), the Snow TENG can effectively produce a charge and create electricity.
Read on to learn more about the Snow TENG and Triboelectric Nanogenerators in general, and how these can impact the way the world generates electricity moving forward.
How Do Triboelectric Nanogenerators Work?
Now, this isn’t the first Triboelectric Nanogenerator to exist. Over the years, scientists have built all sorts of these nanogenerators, including ones that harvest electricity from raindrops.
Generally speaking, nanogenerators comprise of one material that captures electrons and another that gives up electrons.
If you ask us, the beauty of these devices lie in their simplicity. As UCLA chemist and materials scientist Richard Kaner puts it, these “separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing”.
In the context of the Snow TENG, researchers first designed the device and created the electrode that captures the charge, then measured its electrical output with a number of different triboelectric materials including aluminium foil and Teflon.
Co-author of the study in Nano Energy, Maher El-Kady, states that while snow likes to give up electrons, the performance of the device depends on “the efficiency of the other material at extracting these electrons”. El-Kady is a UCLA postdoctoral researcher of chemistry and biochemistry, and the Chief Technical Officer at Nanotech Energy.
After finding that silicone produces more charge than any other material, the researchers decided to use silicon as the device’s triboelectric layer.
When falling snow comes into contact with the layer of silicone (either by falling directly onto it or sliding against it), this produces a charge that the Snow TENG captures, and this, in turn, creates electricity!
Harnessing Energy From The Snow: A Potential Gamechanger?
The way we see it, the Snow TENG has great potential to change the electricity generation landscape.
First and foremost, the Snow TENG is small, thin, and flexible, and can work in remote areas because it provides its own power. The device can be created using 3D printing, and researchers say that given “the ease of fabrication and the availability of silicone”, it’s possible to produce it at low cost.
In other words: supplying the Snow TENG to consumers and businesses from across the world is not going to be an issue.
On top of that, consider the fact that approximately 46 million square kilometres of the Earth’s surface is covered in snowfall each year. This means that there’s a wide pool of consumers and companies who are able to tap into this new method of generating power and use the Snow TENG to harness electricity from the snow.
The Snow TENG: Real World Applications
The best part about the Snow TENG is that it’s highly versatile, and it can lend itself to a wide variety of real-world applications.
For instance, researchers are talking about the possibility of building the snow TENG into solar panels. This way, homeowners can generate electricity in winter, when their solar panels fail to operate.
On top of that, the researchers also say the snow TENG could be utilized in self-powering remote weather stations installed in snow-prone regions. Here, the device’s ability to measure snowfall rate and snow depth and read wind direction and speed will come in handy.
Last but not least, the technology used to produce the Snow TENG could also be used to power wearable devices, and be incorporated into biomechanical tracking sensors. Because the technology can track if a person is walking, running, jumping or marching, it can be used to monitor winter sports such as skiing, and athletes can also use it to assess and improve their own performances.
Going Green Can Also Happen In Summer Without Snow!
Here in Singapore, we’re stuck (or blessed, depending on how you look at it!) with summer all year round. This obviously means we have no use for Snow TENGs to generate green electricity.
However, with iSwitch, you can still go green and enjoy savings off your electricity all year long!
At iSwitch, we offer electricity that is 100% carbon neutral and has zero environmental impact. The average homeowner enjoys up to 30% savings by purchasing their electricity from iSwitch – learn more about how we help our customers save more while going green!
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