A Sustainable Fluid for Fake Falling Snow
11 Nov 2022
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Fundamental insights into the interfacial structure of polymers and surfactants leads to world-leading eco-friendly artificial falling snow

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Image of falling snow, credit Pixabay

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Credit: Pixabay

This case study is part of a set reflecting the impact of ISIS science reported as part of the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021).​​

REF Case Study: Bristol and Snow Business co-create eco-friendly artificial snow and reduce environmental impact of film and TV industries.
Principal Investigator: Wuge Briscoe​
Institution: University of Bristol
Funding: EPSRC Impact Acceleration Award
Company involved: Snow Business

The Challenge
Snow Business​​, located in Stroud, Gloucestershire, is the world's leading supplier of artificial snow for TV, films and stage and exhibition sets. Prior to 2016, their most effective snow fluid was based on petrochemical ingredients, which could cause respiratory and skin problems as well as leaving a harmful residue that could damage the local environment.

Artificial falling snow can be generated by pumping fluid through snow machines to generate foam with a snowflake effect. To find a new, more sustainable snow fluid, Snow Business needed to understand the fundamental chemistry of how thin liquid films are stabilised by different molecules. Passing the fluid through snow machines causes clusters of air bubbles to be formed, creating a metastable foam that produces the falling snow effect.

In 2014 Snow Business were approached by the Eden Project, who wanted to explore the possibility of making it snow inside their iconic biodomes. Existing products did not meet the stringent environmental standards that the Eden Project required. Snow Business had already been looking into the development of a completely environmentally friendly fluid with the University of Bristol, so the request from the Eden Project presented a need to accelerate this research.

“Ideally our snow fluid should be: fully bio-degradable; harmless to the environment and people it came in contact with; not tested on animals; contain only ethical components; produce the best snow effect available; be cost effective to manufacture." Snow Business

Prof Briscoe's group at Bristol have a wealth of expertise in the chemistry of thin films, having built up a detailed understanding of the interfacial structure of polymers and surfactants. They use ISIS to study simple model systems, and used this fundamental knowledge to inform potential candidate formulations for the liquid snow.

Evidence of Impact

For the Eden Project, in Christmas, 760 litres of snow was delivered, and the main dome of the Eden project was temporarily turned into a giant tropical snow globe. The collaboration with the Briscoe group led to the development of two new eco-friendly artificial snow products. These world-leading products have now been used in over 1,200 events since 2017, including dozens of blockbuster Hollywood films, major festivals, shows and TV programmes. In 2019, Snow Business obtained the only BAFTA-supported environmental certification of their products for use in film and TV, strengthening their international position as the predominant global supplier of eco-friendly artificial falling snow. In 2019, the UK film production sector generated a total spend of over GBP1.95 billion, a contribution which is growing annually at 17% more than three times the rate of the wider UK economy.

The role of ISIS

Prof Briscoe says, “The work in this case study on formulation was based on our fundamental understanding of the interfacial structure of polymers and surfactants. The results from ISIS are typically based on simple model systems, not the complex systems used in formulation, but the fundamental knowledge obtained informed our design and guided us throughout the complex formulation process."

ISIS Instrument(s): Inter, SANS2D​ and the Deuteration Facility
ISIS Technique(s): Neutron reflectivity and ​mall-angle neutron scattering

References:​

Christmas at Eden – Snow Business case study

 

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Contact: Fletcher, Sara (STFC,RAL,ISIS)