Clothes dryers are the second biggest hog of household energy, according to the Department of Energy. Most are so similar in terms of power hunger that the Energy Star label of efficient appliances doesn't even mark dryers.
By this fall, however, consumers could enjoy faster, greener, and safer clothes dryers that draw half the power of conventional models, according to Hydromatic Technologies Corporation.
Its Dryer Miser technology would dry garments 41 percent more quickly without shrinking as much or stinking them up with the odor of burnt lint, said Michael Brown, the inventor and company president.
He plans to sell the Dryer Miser in the fall as a $300 retrofit kit that he says could be added to existing dryers in 20 minutes by a technician. Up to 40 percent of dryers from Whirlpool, the top brand in the market, as well as others, could be converted.
The company is also working with a large European appliance manufacturer to integrate the technology into a scratch-built dryer model.
Liquid is the key ingredient to drying clothes more quickly, according to Brown.
"We used NASA and MIT engineers to prove the technology is an oxymoron and (that) I'm not a moron," said Brown.
His copper and aluminum system heats a fluid, which mixes with air that is then blown hot into the clothing drum. Each unit would use about three cups of a nontoxic, hydrocarbon-based oil. Unlike natural gas dryers, no carbon dioxide would be produced.
Nor would the noncombustible system, which could be plugged into 110-volt outlets, create a fire hazard, Brown said. Conventional dryers may reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in order to raise the tumbler temperature up to 155 degrees. They are blamed for 15,000 household fires counted each year by the Consumer Safety Product Commission.
The Dryer Miser also would be more effective than relatively efficient heat pump or condensing dryers in Europe and Asia, according to Brown. In those markets, dryers are about half the size as those in the United States.
Brown, a heating and air conditioning technician, invented the device in 2004 in his garage in Kissimmee, Fla. He got the idea from working with boilers. So far he says he has raised $3 million privately and has turned down offers of up to $100 million from venture capitalists.
He hopes his work will lead to the first Energy Star-rated clothes dryers. To that end, Brown plans to submit a rule-making request to the Department of Energy. Energy Star recently raised its energy efficiency requirements for clothes washers.
Brown is also working on an off-grid, solar-powered dryer that would draw power in the daytime from rooftop photovoltaic panels.
The Dryer Miser kit is being demonstrated this week at the International Builders' Show in Orlando. A state utility there has expressed interest in offering rebates for customers who use the system.
Utilities elsewhere are exploring smart meters and networking tools to help people conserve energy. CenterPoint Energy in Texas, for one, is testing a Zigbee networking module that would turn off dryers during peak load times.
Refrigerators and dryers are the hungriest of all household appliances, which make up one-fifth of energy consumption, according to the government's Energy Information Administration. A washer and dryer are found in 9 of 10 single-family American homes.
On a related note, a movement is afoot among green-leaning consumers who are ditching dryers in favor of the clothesline. Members of Project Laundry List assemble online to fight for the right to dry clothes outside without the interference of local NIMBY laws.