Energy

Snow-powered nanogenerator works where solar panels don't

Snow-powered nanogenerator wor...
A new nanogenerator could harvest energy directly from snow, helping solar panels deal with wintry conditions
A new nanogenerator could harvest energy directly from snow, helping solar panels deal with wintry conditions
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A new nanogenerator could harvest energy directly from snow, helping solar panels deal with wintry conditions
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A new nanogenerator could harvest energy directly from snow, helping solar panels deal with wintry conditions

Snowy places aren't ideal for harvesting solar energy – panels can't do much if they're buried under blankets of snow, of course. Now a team from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has developed a new device that can produce electricity from snow itself.

The team calls the new device a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or Snow TENG. As the name suggests it works off the triboelectric effect, meaning it uses static electricity to generate a charge through the exchange of electrons. These kinds of devices have been used to make generators that pull energy from body movements, touchscreens, and even footsteps on floors.

Snow is positively charged, so rubbing it against a material with the opposite charge allows energy to be drawn out of it. After a comprehensive series of testing, the team settled on silicone as the most effective material.

The Snow TENG, which is 3D printable, is made with a layer of silicone attached to an electrode. The team says it could be integrated into solar panels, so they can continue generating electricity even when covered with snow, making it similar to an earlier hybrid solar cell that also harvested energy from the movement of raindrops on its surface.

The problem is that the Snow TENG produces a pretty tiny amount of electricity in its current form – it has a power density of 0.2 mW per square meter. That means you won't really be hooking that up to the grid like a solar panel, but it could make for small, self-powered weather sensors.

"The device can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries," says Richard Kaner, senior author of the study. "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."

The researchers give other examples like a sensor that could be attached to the bottom of boots or skis and used to collect data for winter sports.

The research was published in the journal Nano Energy.

Source: UCLA

5 comments
robertswww
I wonder if using this Snow TENG system with Solar Panels to form a hybrid system, if that could generate enough energy to melt the snow off and thereby exposing the solar panels.
RMinNM
So, 10 sq m generates 2 milliwatts? And with full sun the same area generates 2 kilowatts... (assuming a module efficiency of ~20%, the upper end of current affordable panels) That's a factor of 1 million difference. 2 milliwatts will run a really tiny 8-bit microcontroller, at best. And how much power will it absorb from the sunlight if you put it on the front of a PV panel?
warren trout
Payback time? Probably centuries.
Bob Stuart
Here in snow country, the sun is so low and the ground so bright that a near-vertical panel works well. Most days, the snow is dry and won't stick even on a 45 deg. slope.
Pelotoner
We have a 500kW roof-mounted PV array in southern Ontario and are going to be testing select panels with super-hydrophobic coatings. Some produce an opaque film while others are more transparent. Will see how it goes once the proper outdoor conditions for application are favorable.