Clean your clothes without putting them—or your utility bills—through the wringer. Xeros’s prototype washing machine uses 90 percent less water than ordinary models, which also eliminates energy-intensive spin cycles and dryer blasts.
The machine replaces all but one tenth of the usual water and about one third of the usual detergent with 0.1-inch plastic beads, reusable for hundreds of washes. The beads are made of the same nylon as many carpets, because the properties that make nylon easy to stain also make it a great scrubber: Its polarized molecules attract soil, and in the humidity created by a little water, the polymer chains separate slightly to absorb grime and lock it into the beads’ cores.
Xeros aims to put machines in commercial laundries next year, where they will use eight gallons of water instead of 80 for each 45-pound load. They may be cleaning your favorite T-shirts at home within several years.
The appliances depend on new home electric meters, in development by some local utilities, that contain a cellphone chip or other long-distance transceiver to download citywide energy-use information. The meters route this info to home refrigerators, washers and microwaves outfitted with shorter-range transceivers, such as low-power radio chips. The appliances can then run at full blast during the cheapest periods and ramp down, or even turn off, during expensive periods; customers can override the settings if they really need to nuke dinner. GE is now conducting trials with Louisville Gas and Electric. Look for Demand Response appliances, as well as widespread time-of-use pricing, in 2011 or 2012. —Sarah Parsons
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.