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Thursday, 11 December 2014

ICN2 and ICMAB might have a research laboratory on the formation of ice and snow at the SnowWorld resort

The laboratory will be located within the artificial ski slope that the Dutch Company SnowWorld intends to develop in Barcelona. Dr. Albert Verdaguer would coordinate this space dedicated to ICN2 and ICMAB research on the formation of ice and snow. Their results would have an impact in fields such as climate change, food preservation or transport of biological samples.

SnowWorld wants to build an energetically sustainable resort of winter sports at the Zona Franca de Barcelona. The project of the Dutch company, to be funded by private capital and still pending approval by the authorities of the city, gets a new scientific dimension with the signing of a cooperation agreement with the Institut Catala de Nanociencia i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), a Foundation formed by CSIC, Generalitat de Catalunya and Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB), belonging to the CERCA netowork of the Generalitat de Catalunya, and the Institut de Ciencia de Materials de Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC), both located in Campus Bellaterra of the UAB. Thus, two public scientific institutions would benefit from this initiative.

The natural process of rain and snow formation usually starts from the freezing of the droplets that form clouds. These droplets reach the surface of the planet as snow or water depending on the environmental temperature. If clouds were formed exclusively of water, it would require temperatures of about -40 o C to freeze drops of pure water. Clouds, despite being at temperatures below zero for their localization in the higher strata of the atmosphere, are far from reaching these temperatures. The drops freezing process is possible at higher temperatures due to the particles mixed with the water, such as desert sand, sea salt, pollen or pollution.

The research led by Dr. Albert Verdaguer, CSIC researcher at the ICN2, faces among other challenges to find a better way to control the freezing of the water with an snow producing aim. It is necessary a better understanding of the role of these particles and which materials are most effective in reproducing the natural process in the ski slopes. This is possible by studying the particles in the atmosphere, a fact that will help understand the rainfall distribution and how pollution and climate change affect to this natural process. Through nanotechnology and materials science it is possible to design new nanostructures to make this process as efficient as possible.

Controlling these mechanisms would let to produce snow at temperatures closer to 0 oC, with less water, less energy, so more like the natural process and choosing the type of snow that is generated for each application. Knowing all these, we need to note that research goes beyond the applications it might have for the SnowWorld resort. It might help to understand processes related to climate change or would have important implications for the food industry, where the ice is continuously used in product preservation. Moreover, it may be used to prevent water from freezing, protecting the machinery in the open air, preventing the accumulation of ice on aircrafts or helping conservation of biological samples.

The research carried out in the laboratory is done in small amounts and under controlled conditions. Having a research area integrated on the resort that SnowWorld pretends to build in the city of Barcelona would bring to reality the results obtained in the laboratory. An indoor ski slope would ensure easy access during all seasons of the year to temperatures and environmental conditions that would facilitate the work of researchers.

This morning, after the press conference at ICN2 with CSIC researcher at the ICN2 head of the study that would be developed in the Laboratories of SnowWorld complex in Barcelona, Albert Verdaguer, the head of the Unit for Knowledge Transfer of ICMAB-CSIC, Susana Garelik, the architect of B01arquitectes for the project, Sander Lauder, and the executive director of the Dutch company SnowWorld, Koos Hendriks, have signed a collaboration agreement with Prof. Xavier Obradors, Director of ICMAB, and Prof. Pablo Ordejón, director of ICN2. This document is a statement of intent from which those involved believe they can develop a long scientific collaboration.