The next game-changing technology might not be in the form of an electric car with a longer range, or more efficient solar panels, but rather a better way to dry your clothes.
The laundry isn't nearly as sexy of a topic as clean cars, renewable energy, or tiny houses, but considering that about 80% of all US households have clothes dryers, which account for about 4% of all residential electricity consumption (to the tune of about $9 billion per year in utility costs), finding better ways to do such mundane tasks as drying our clothes is a viable line of investigation in getting to a more sustainable way of life. It's certainly possible for more of us to use a clothesline instead of a dryer, but between wet weather, high humidity, and lack of space, it's not always a good option for everyone.
Our current clothes dryer technology, which relies on heat, usually produced with electricity, to evaporate the water from clothes, is in dire need of an overhaul. There are ways to reduce the amount of water in clothing before drying, such as the high-speed spinners that are often found at laundromats, but those seem to be the exception rather than the rule for home laundry rooms (here's a home version). It's a good thing we've got some of the nation's brightest minds working on rebooting the clothes dryer, because our current method is rather dated.
Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), with support from the US Department of Energy's Building Technologies Office and GE Appliances, has developed a prototype of an innovative clothes drying technology that could shorten drying times down to just 20 minutes, and reduce the amount of energy used for each load by 70%. Instead of using heat to remove water from clothing, this prototype uses high-frequency vibrations - ultrasonic waves - produced by piezoelectric transducers driven by a custom amplifier. This drying method yielded "mind blowing" results, said ORNL scientist Ayyoub Momen, who developed the prototype.
"The first results were mind blowing. We could dry a piece of fabric in just 14 seconds. If you wanted to do that in an oven at different temperatures it would take several minutes." - Momen
Check out the ultrasonic clothes dryer research for yourself:
Not only is the ultrasonic clothes dryer effective in removing water quickly from clothing, with a significantly reduced energy demand, but it also does it at room temperature, and releases "cool mist" instead of warm humid air as conventional dryers do (and that can cause additional dampness and mold issues in homes). Obviously, even a cool mist is still airborne water, so the new technology would still need to be vented outside, but who knows, perhaps the next phase of this laundry re-invention would be developing a way to re-condense the mist back into water, which could then be used for washing another load of laundry.
According to the US Department of Energy website, the ORNL and GE are working on the development of a commercialized product, and plan to have a full-scale prototype built by this fall. Assuming this would be a cost-effective upgrade for commercial laundry facilities as well as home laundry rooms, this ultrasonic clothes dryer really could be a game-changer.