Research has started in a northeastern Japanese city to generate electricity from unwanted snow with the aim of securing a renewable energy source to cover potential power shortages.
The city of Aomori, which sees heavy snow every year, started a trial in a swimming pool at an abandoned elementary school in December to explore the feasibility of producing energy by utilizing the temperature difference between stored snow and the surrounding air.
In the joint project, local IT startup Forte Co. and the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo are looking to power a turbine with energy produced when liquid cooled by stored snow is then vaporized by the heat of the surrounding air.
Electricity generation using stored snow has recently drawn attention as an environmentally friendly, low-cost and safe power source.
In Aomori, large volumes of snow are dumped into the sea and other places after being collected by snowplows and trucks. In the previous fiscal year that ended last March, snow removal costs ballooned to a record 5.9 billion yen ($44.6 million) after heavy snowfalls.
"Snow has been treated as a nuisance but we can put it to good use," a city official said.
On Dec. 16, around 10 Forte workers placed insulating materials inside the pool to keep the piled-up snow cold.
Further research into preserving snow as well as into the amount of electricity that could be generated will then be conducted before power production begins in spring.
According to Forte, challenges include finding a large-scale facility to store snow as well as securing heated air during cold seasons.
To obtain a large temperature difference, the company will consider using heat from hot springs.
"It is a renewable energy source unique to a region with heavy snow. It will also lead to creating a new industry," said Jun Kasai, the head of Forte.