Researchers from UCLA have created a prototype that creates electricity from snowfall. They call it a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or Snow-TENG.
Essentially, the prototype seems like an interesting energy harvesting application that generates charge through static electricity and produces energy from the exchange of electrons.
Right now, the Snow-TENG can produce an open circuit voltage up to 8 volts, and it is designed to work like a self-powered weather station to monitor snowfall, accumulation depth, wind direction, and speed in snowy or icy environments.
Basically, snow is positively charged; silicone is negatively charged — and when falling snow contacts the surface of silicone, it produces a charge that the device captures, creating electricity.
According to the researchers, it could be particularly useful in areas that have a tendency to render solar panels useless. About 30 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by snow each winter, and during that time solar panels often fail. Snow accumulation reduces the amount of sun that reaches the arrays.
The team 3D-printed the prototype, which includes a layer of silicone and an electrode to capture the charge. Because silicone is widely available, and 3D printing is relatively low-cost, the researchers believe that it could remain fairly low-cost to product.
Because the sensor is small, it also has potential in the wearable market.