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Innovation & Technology Briefs

A Juiced-Up Wind Turbine

Using features from jet engines, FloDesign Wind Turbine created a compact prototype three times more efficient at turning wind into electricity than today's three-bladed windmills. Two concentric hoops channel air into patterns that create spinning vortexes—like miniature tornadoes—as air exits past the blades. This dramatically boosts air flow. Proponents say the design could transform the wind business in several respects. For example, today's towering turbines require a caravan of tractor trailers to transport them. FloDesign's model fits on a single rig.

What's more, the new design can produce energy at lower wind speeds and in more volatile gusts, making it a natural for spots—such as cities and beaches—that are inhospitable to bigger rigs. In 2008, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers committed $6 million in venture capital to the Wilbraham (Mass.) company. FloDesign, which also received funding from the U.S. Energy Dept., hopes to raise an additional $25 million later this year.

Nearly Waterless Washing

Hotels, hospitals, and commercial cleaners do tons of laundry every day, leading to outsize utility bills and deluges of wastewater. Now Xeros, a startup spun out of the University of Leeds in Great Britain, is commercializing a process that replaces most of the water with rice-size nylon beads.

Mixed with mere squirts of detergent and water in the rotating drum of a modified washing machine, the pellets act like chemical magnets, absorbing grime and soap as they tumble over fabric. When the wash is done, the beads are automatically collected through an opening in the drum. After a few hundred loads, these get recycled, says CEO Bill Westwater. Lab tests show that the process matches industry standards for cleaning while cutting water volume by 90% and energy use by about 30%. Backed by some $3 million in public and venture capital funds, Xeros aims to sell commercial units by late next year.

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