The Laboratori de la Neu is a joint project between the Institut de Ciència de Materials de Barcelona of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (ICMAB-CSIC), Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) and the company TechnoAlpin, leader in technology snowing It also has the financial support of the Next Generation EU funds, granted by the Agencia Estatal de Investigación.
The main objective of this pioneering project in the world is to study the application of a new technology to produce snow in a more sustainable way, with less time, using less water and with less energy. Successfully developed in the laboratory by Dr. Albert Verdaguer, head scientist of the CSIC at the ICMAB, and the TechnoAlpin team by applying the latest production techniques with technologically innovative equipment, the tests will now be transferred to FGC Tourism stations in real conditions and environments.
The improvement that the Laboratori de la Neu incorporates is that it simulates the natural process of water mineralization and reproduces it on a small scale, unlike the technology applied so far, which exclusively uses water as a raw material to create snow. Thus, through mineralization, a nucleus is obtained that facilitates the formation of the snow volva more quickly, with more consistency and at a lower temperature. And the fact is that in the atmosphere there are not only drops of water, but also particles in suspension (of sea salt, minerals, pollen...) on which water condenses to give rise to clouds and snowfalls The Laboratory uses minerals from the feldspar group, which are harmless to the environment and are an abundant natural resource on Earth. They are also one of the main particles in the atmosphere, which interact with clouds and induce precipitation, so they do not chemically alter the composition of water.
The project will study the use of the new technology in all possible real-world situations to determine its feasibility and benefits in terms of energy, water and snowmaking capacity savings, and has been designed to obtain the maximum universal results, with tests in different locations.
The aim is to obtain a technology that can be used at any ski resort, both in Spain and abroad.
Test at the FGC mountain stations
The snow management system implemented by FGC Turisme generates a closed cycle from the lakes where water from rain or thaw in the same area is stored. Therefore, the stations are an example of a circular water economy.
From the water stored in the resorts' ponds, snow is produced that spreads on the slopes during the winter and with the arrival of spring, this same snow melts and enters the stream that feeds at the nearest station pool. therefore, it returns to its origin. And the cycle begins again: once the cold comes, this water will return to the track in the form of snow. In this way, it can be stated that the snow produced is a form of cultivated natural snow integrated into the water cycle. In short, water is not consumed, but is used to change its state (from liquid to solid). The consumption is solely of energy, which in the case of FGC is green energy guaranteed in its entirety.
The study has been tested and developed in laboratories to guarantee its effectiveness and efficiency in the production of snow in ski resorts. After the success achieved, the project now enters a crucial phase of large-scale testing in the ski resorts of FGC Turisme. A promising future opens up for ski resorts, showing a shared commitment to innovation and sustainability in a changing context.
FGC, with its vast experience in snowmaking and ski slope facilities, will lead the efforts to determine the feasibility and benefits of this new technology in real environments and in terms of energy, water and innivation capacity. The tests will be carried out in areas closed to the public, guaranteeing the safety of the usual facilities. It is planned to start at the stations of La Molina and Boí Taüll during the winter season 2023/2024, and to gradually implement it in the rest of the mountain stations during the next three years.
The Laboratori de la Neu is part of FGC's 2030 Climate Action Plan
FGC Turisme's Climate Action Plan includes the objective of reducing water and energy consumption in snow production. This commitment was made concrete with the definition of a unique and transversal policy in 2021. This plan defines the strategy and the actions to be carried out in the 2030 horizon with the aim of reducing energy consumption by 50% and drive research to produce more snow with less energy and water expenditure.
FGC Turisme's mountain resorts are an example of a circular water economy with a water management system, with the provision of concessions and storage in rafts for use in snowmaking.
The production of snow follows a protocol and a fairly simple production. There is no element that alters the composition of the water. Only a change of state is made from liquid to solid (water transformed into ice) or from solid to liquid (ice transformed into liquid) without altering the properties of water. In this sense, physical-chemical analyzes of this water are carried out before and after it passes through the cannons, which show that its composition remains unchanged.
In the case of FGC stations, snow production has no impact on rivers and lakes. The water that comes out of the snow blowers is not obtained directly from any stream, it is always water previously stored during the rainy season, especially during spring or autumn.
On the other hand, bioindicator analyzes are carried out upstream and downstream of the activity properly to verify the quality of the water, with a water quality result of good or very good.
Adaptation to climate change
With the uncertainty of snow patterns due to climate change, this new technology is presented as an innovative and sustainable response to maintain the continuity of ski resorts in a changing context. Mountain ski resorts are a common reality in the Pyrenees, they support demographics, facilitate the establishment and generate direct and indirect employment opportunities, acting as economic engines that add value to the territory.
In fact, the impact of the FGC mountain resorts on the Catalan economy is a total expenditure (management, investment and visitors) of 148 million euros (year 2022), generating 2,721 jobs and 49 million euros of fiscal impact.
The main challenge is, therefore, to reduce energy costs and expand the meteorological conditions so that snow can be produced optimally, in terms of adaptation to climate change. In addition, this new technology allows a lower consumption of water for the same amount of snow, since its formation process follows a logic more similar to the natural one, while increasing the resilience of mountain areas in the face of economic effects of climate change.