Chill Ways to Recycle Last Year’s Snow

Let it snow!

snow plow
Oregon Department of Transportation via Flickr

In most places, the snowfall blanketing city streets during the winter is seen as a nuisance to quickly eliminate. In fact, heavy snowfall is often considered such an important test that blizzards can make or break many politicians’ careers. Some places, however, are bucking the trend by treating snowfall as a resource instead of a burden, Marlene Cimons reports for Popular Science.

It might seem almost like waste to keep giant snowdrifts around through the height of summer. But the hottest times of year are just when a big pile of snow might seem like a relief. With global temperatures continuing to rise, several countries have begun experimenting with ways of saving their winter snow to put it to use when they need it most.

“Snow is not a waste, but a resource,’’ Kasun Hewage, associate professor of engineering at the University of British Columbia, tells Cimons. “With temperatures rising in many areas, and with them, air conditioning bills, we as societies are increasingly looking at resources and materials differently.’’

Hewage's recent study, published in the journal Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy, found that pumping air through a room cooled by snow could reduce the need for traditional air conditioning during warm weather. Facilities in several countries, including Japan and Sweden, have already implemented ways to make use of heavy snowfall by keeping it in specially-designed, insulated rooms which can cool air conditioning systems or even keep food cold, Cimons reports.

Cooling down office buildings isn’t the only thing saving snow can do: it can also be a lifesaver for businesses that rely on regular snowfall, like ski resorts. As winters get warmer and heavy snow become more infrequent, many resorts have turned to making their own snow to blanket their slopes. But by figuring out ways to keep as much of that snow preserved through warmer months as possible, these places not only make sure they will open on time, but can save money and reduce how much fuel they use each winter to keep their slopes fresh, John Hopewell reports for The Washington Post.

In that case, keeping snow around can be as simple as piling it into mounds and covering them with special tarps to keep in the cold. But snow-cooled systems likely won’t be replacing air conditioners any time soon. It’s also likely that the method would only be feasible in parts of the world that get a certain amount of snow each year. Currently, Hewage and his colleagues see it more as a potential option for cities and towns to recoup some of the expenses they accrue for removing snow by putting it to work to reduce high electricity bills, Cimons writes.

“It is a proven technology…[but] the economic feasibility of this is climate-dependent,’’ Hewage tells Cimons.

As the world gets warmer, the climates that could take advantage of this type of air conditioning could become increasingly rare.

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