Researchers and collaborators from UCLA have developed a new device that can generate electricity from snowfall. Apart from being the first of its kind, the device is also pocket-friendly, thin, small, and flexible like a sheet of paper.

Speaking about the device, Richard Kaner, the senior author who holds UCLA's Dr. Myung Ki Hong Endowed Chair in Materials and Innovation, he said that the device is capable of working in remote areas because it provides its power and doesn't need batteries. Kaner stated further that the device is a smart one, 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 call the device a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator or snow TENG. As the triboelectric nanogenerator generates charge through static electric, it also produces energy from the exchange of electrons. The researchers have published their findings in the journal Nano Energy.

As a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and materials science and engineering, Kaner explained that static electricity occurs from the interaction of one material that captures electrons and another that gives up electrons. The separation of the charges will create electricity out of virtually nothing.

Snow gives up electrons as it positively charged. A synthetic rubber-like material that is composed of silicon atoms and oxygen atoms called Silicone combined with hydrogen, carbon, and other elements, is negatively charged. When falling snow contacts the surface of silicone, it produces a charge that the device captures to create electricity.

A co-author and UCLA postdoctoral researcher of chemistry and biochemistry, Maher El-Kady said that snow is already charged and they thought of bringing another material with the reversed charge and extract the charge to create electricity.

He added 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. When they tested a large number of material including aluminum foils and Teflon, they discovered that silicone produces more charge than any other material.

El-Kady also noted that snow covered the surface of the Earth for about 30 percent each winter, and solar panels often fail to operate. The accumulation of snow reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches the solar array, which limits the power output of the panels and renders them less effective. It is easy to integrate the new device into solar panels to provide a continuous power supply when it snows.

With a layer of silicone and an electrode to capture the charge, the team used 3D printing to design the device. The researchers also held the belief that the device could be produced at a low cost because of the ease of fabrication and the availability of silicone.