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Norwegians are developing eco-friendly snow machines that heat homes

Why it matters to you

With a warming climate, researchers are finding eco-friendly ways to keep snow on the mountain.

Changing climates around the world are affecting the amount of snowfall on mountains. To keep up, more and more ski resorts have turned to artificial snow to stay in business. Snow machines are expensive to run and require large amounts of fuel, which also contributes to the climate change. In an effort to save their country’s favorite sport, Norwegian researchers are developing a better snow machine.

According to Climate Home, 2.3 million Krone ($300,000) in support from the Norwegian Ministry of Culture is going toward researching a solution at SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The first step is to change the way snow machines work.

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Currently, snow machines work by simply spraying water into cold air. With more recent advances, water is now mixed with a protein from a bacterium that allows snow to form at higher temperatures around freezing. Once temperatures are above freezing, this standard method no longer is of any use.

By adapting the heat pump technology found in refrigerators and freezers, researchers found a way to create snow in warmer temperatures. By pulling heat from the outside, cold air is produced. This can then be used outside to produce artificial snow.

This process alone is not what makes the design energy efficient. Instead of wasting the heat that is pulled from the air, it can be used to heat up a building instead. Essentially, indoor facilities can be heated while making snow for the ski slopes at virtually no extra cost.

Additionally, researchers are looking for a better way to store snow as a precaution. Sawdust is currently used to help insulate the snow for later use, but it loses its insulating properties over time and requires replacement. One solution turns toward the fishing industry.

“The fishery sector produces around 300,000 tons of ice each year for fish export,” said Trygve Eikevik, a professor in NTNU’s Department of Energy and Process Engineering. “This is enough to cover an eight-meter-wide, 150-kilometer-long ski trail with a layer of ice that is half a meter thick. It is, therefore, more than possible to manufacture snow for skiing.”

Norwegians say they are “born with skis on their feet.” This is just one way they are working to keep it that way.