Recycling gray water is neat, but what if you didn’t–literally–end up flushing it down the toilet? What if, instead, your washing machine could clean and recycle up to 95% of its own water on-the-fly? That would be pretty impressive. And that’s exactly what AquaFresco’s machine does.
AquaFresco was created by Sasha Huang, Alina Rwei, and Chris Lai of MIT and an entry to MIT’s Water Innovation Prize competition. The design is based around a filter that pulls the dirt and detergent out of waste water, letting the machine reuse the same water, over and over. “You could use essentially the same batch of water to wash laundry for up to six months,” says The Atlantic’s April Wolfe.
The device relies on the fact that laundry just isn’t that dirty. A washing machine, especially the inefficient models common in the U.S., uses gallons of water to rinse away a few ounces of dirt. The team says that, on average, 20 gallons are needed to remove one teaspoon of dirt.
That’s a waste right there, but the water that runs down the drain takes detergent with it, and that has an even bigger environmental impact. The AquaFresco uses a closed system that removes this small amount of dirt and detergent from water, pulling out “all hydrophobic waste material,” then returning the water to the machine to wash again.
The system is aimed at hotels, which, says the team, spend tens of thousands of dollars a week just washing linen. AquaFresco can reuse 95% of water and detergent from a wash, saving hotels hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Fixing hotels might have the biggest impact on the environment, but Rwei, Lai and Huang see their system being used in factories, military installations, and in homes. Given that the current “eco” modes of modern washing machines usually saves water by greatly extending the wash cycle, letting the clothes sit in small amounts of water, and agitating them regularly, machines could be redesigned to use more water, therefore saving on electricity too.
The AquaFresco took third prize in the MIT competition, winning $3,000, but of the three winners it has the most likely future as a successful business. And because the team is targeting the hotel industry, it has the most potential for impact on waste. Laundry is the second biggest user of water in the U.S., after restrooms.
Switching hotels to a closed system would see real results, and, given the scale of the savings, it seems like an obvious move for larger chains. It would also be a lot more convincing to environmentally-conscious hotel guests than the pathetic green-washing attempts currently employed by cynical hoteliers.
And the science behind the system obviously works, because the team has attracted interest from none other than NASA, for possible use on the International Space Station.