Xeros, a British startup, is developing a clothes-washing machine that uses virtually no water, and hopes to bring it to market by 2010.
The new machine isn't about simply conserving or recycling water--it works in a fundamentally different way, first discovered by Stephen Burkinshaw, a professor at the University of Leeds in the U.K. Instead of using water to wash away dirt, it uses polymer beads. When these are slightly dampened, they develop a slight charge, which attracts dirt. Once that dirt adheres to the beads, its absorbed into the center. Despite all the grime they suck up, the beads are reusable for hundreds of times. And then they get recycled.
The process uses 90% less water than conventional washers, and it enables a host of savings down the line: Less detergent for one, but more importantly, since clothes are merely damp rather than wet, the Xeros machine eliminates the need for tumble drying (and the coal-fired electricity it uses).
Xeros claims that all these savings amount to 40% less energy used (counting the elimination of dryers), and they calculate that if all American homes had one, the carbon savings would be equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road, while the water conserved would come to 1.2 billion tons--about 17 million swimming pools.
Two questions though: How much will the washer be? And does it clean clothes as well as old-fashioned washers? If so--and if the wash cycles are really shorter, consuming less electricity--this thing could be a world-changing invention. And the owners of Xeros could be billionaires.