Snow! The Next Clean Source of Energy?

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Have you ever thought that snow could be used to provide electricity? Well, there has been a recent invention by UCLA scientists of a device that can generate energy; electricity from an unexpected source; snow.

The newly invented device; Snow-TENG, is described to be a flexible, cheap and simple device that can generate electricity once it gets into contact with the snow.

For decades, scientists have had the idea that snow carries with it the electrical charge, but no other successful invention has been innovated to tap this energy in the past, making snow-TENG the first of its kind.

The UCLA scientists believe that this device can be used primarily in movement-tracking applications or even as a simple climate station that needs no battery for its operations.

With the ever-escalating costs and efforts as we try to extract liquefied dinosaur bones can be minimized by focusing on other forms of energy like sun, wind, waves, rivers and now from the snow.

How does it work?

Water (H2O) is known to be a polar molecule, and by this, it means that it is positively charged (from the hydrogen atoms) as well as negatively charged (from the oxygen atom). Once the water molecules crystalize to form the snowflakes, they get oriented on their own, giving the snowflake an overall charge. Also, friction gives the snowflakes some electrical charge. However, the exact amount of charge depends on the temperatures; with a -5 to -10 degrees Celcius, the charge inclines to the negative while -15 to -20 degrees Celsius, the charge is negative.

“Snow is already charged, so we thought, why not bring another material with the opposite charge and extract the charge to create electricity?” El-Kady said in a UCLA statement briefing. Such materials are known as triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), named from their triboelectric effect which a material collects the charge through contact with another material. Take for example, the static electricity produced when you rub a balloon strip against your hair, which is caused by the positive charges in your hair trying to reach out to the now-negatively charges in the balloon strip, in “quest of its stolen electrons”.

“After testing a big number of materials including aluminium foils and Teflon, we found that silicone produces more charge than any other material,” said El-Kady.

How can it be used?

There are many ways in which this device can be put into application. Some of them include;

  • It could be attached to a solar panel, providing energy, especially when the solar panel has been blocked from the sun by the snow.
  • It could be used while the cold-weather athletes are tracking their performance.
  • Through small power-generating and wearable devices, etc.

Additionally, El-Kady told Popular Science, “We believe our materials can be painted onto buildings to create electricity, and also provide protection against water and humidity.”

The Snow way

During winter, almost a third of the planet is covered with snow, making this device; snow-TENG, more practical than it sounds. The device operates with a self-powered sensor of weather and movement, and with more improvements, it could even be used to generate loads of electricity.

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