Scientists from the Japanese city of Aomori have begun to study the possibility of obtaining electricity from snow, with the aim of creating a renewable energy source to cover the electricity shortage.
Aomori gets a lot of snow every year, and with that in mind, the research team began work in the snow-covered pool of an abandoned elementary school to study the potential for energy generation from the temperature difference between the snow and the surrounding air.
Information technology company Forte Co. and the Tokyo University of Electrical and Electronic Engineering want to power a turbine using energy from a liquid that is first cooled by accumulated snow and then evaporated by the heat of the surrounding air.
In Aomori, large volumes of snow are dumped into the sea after being collected by snowplows and trucks. In the previous fiscal year ending March 2022, snow removal spending rose to an all-time high of 5.9 billion yen (41.9 million euros).
“Snow is treated as a nuisance, but we can use it,” one city official said.
On December 16, Forte workers placed thermal insulation materials inside the pool to prevent water from leaking. Now communal workers dump the snow collected from the streets into the pool, while on the other hand, heat-conducting pipes, brought out into the open air, trap the heat of the sun’s rays. As a result of the temperature difference between the tubes, the convection movement of the liquid begins. It, in turn, drives the microturbine. The higher the temperature difference, the greater the power output of the turbine.
Forte says the biggest challenges are finding or building large-scale snow storage infrastructure and providing air heating in the winter. To achieve a large temperature difference, the company will consider using hot springs. “This is a renewable energy source that is unique in a region with a lot of snow. It will also lead to the creation of a new industry,” said Jun Kasai, CEO of Forte.
Interestingly, this is not the first time scientists have tried to generate electricity from snow. For example, in 2019, a group of specialists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) developed a device that can generate electrical energy from falling snow. True, such a device could only power small devices. Several other similar attempts have been made in the past. However, none of them turned out to be a scalable solution for generating electricity from snow, similar to that proposed by Japanese engineers.
System tests will last until March 2023. It is expected to be as efficient as solar panels and more environmentally friendly than wind turbines. The proposed solution with snow and a pool will have practically no waste, while solar panels and wind turbines need to be changed over time, this “flies a pretty penny”, and there has not yet been a way to completely recycle them.
Scientists believe that even if this electricity is expensive, this solution will in any case save money on the removal of snow outside the city, which means it will be economically beneficial.