Is this a greener approach to laundry? Ask Hilton and Hyatt
Federal data estimates that hotels and other hospitality businesses guzzle about 15 percent of the water used commercially (PDF) every year in the United States. The laundries they run to keep guest linens fresh are among the top three consumers — after private and public bathrooms and alongside landscape irrigation.
But an 11-year-old British-born technology firm called Xeros is helping early adopters wring millions of gallons out of water out of their operations — essentially by reverse-engineering and mimicking the fabric-dying process. Xeros machines have been shown to use far less water than conventional high-capacity washing machines — in some cases about a half-gallon per pound of fabric, compared with the more than three gallons per pound that traditional equipment can use, according to the company’s data.
At the Stanford Park Hotel, a boutique property in Northern California with 162 guest rooms, that translated into more than 1 million gallons of water saved in one year. (For those who love numerical comparisons, 1 million gallons is about the same amount needed to fill 20,000 bathtubs.) Other customers, including several Hilton, Hampton Inn and Hyatt locations, also have surpassed that milestone. "Our adoption is starting to come from repeat customers. … That gets you past the new company syndrome," said Joe Bazzinotti, president of the global commercial laundry operation for Xeros, which makes its U.S. base in Manchester, New Hampshire.
We knew what happens to the beads would be of concern to everyone.
How does the technology work? Xeros uses recyclable polymer beads that, when combined with its detergent, become ionized so that they pull dirt and stains away from the fabric. Rather than filling the entire drum with water, the "extractor" adds it gradually and continually — like the difference between taking a showing and soaking in a bath tub. The dirt is released along with the water into the hotel’s conventional drainage systems, but the beads are captured separately after each cycle, recharged and then reused. The company’s systems currently come in 35-pound and 90-pound models.
"We found that it’s cost-effective, and we’re saving a lot of water," said Chris Busbin, director of engineering for the Stanford Park Hotel. It has also cut the energy associated with this process in half, because it doesn’t need to heat or cool the water. The property currently uses two machines, which it leases from Xeros along with the detergent and a monthly maintenance visit. Sensors on the systems keep track of how much water each system uses and how many cycles have been run. (Xeros put together an "as-a-service" program to help hotels and other hospitality organizations make the switch.)
"Our sweet spot is definitely hotels," said Bazzinotti, pointing to installations in the U.S., U.K., Canada and the Caribbean. Another niche market that you’ll see the company more exploit in years to come: industrial laundries and dry-cleaning businesses.
Closing the loop
One thing that the Stanford Park Hotel operations staff examined closely before starting to use Xeros machines about 18 months ago was how often the polymer beads can be used before they must be replaced — and what happens to them afterward. They didn’t want to make progress in water conservation in exchange for releasing harmful substances into the environment. Right now, its beads are recycled quarterly for this particular location, which is a common metric, according to Xeros executives.
Our adoption is starting to come from repeat customers.
David Kaupp, vice president of global marketing for Xeros, said the company uses conventional polymer recycling partners to manage end-of-life beads. "We knew this would be of concern to everyone," he said. That’s one reason Xeros opted for its model of delivering its machines as a service — so it can better control where the beads wind up.
The company also partnered with chemicals giant BASF back in 2013 to maximize the cleansing properties of its polymer while ensuring they still can be recycled relatively easily.
"On the one side, as a globally active chemical company, we can support Xeros through our global network and the worldwide availability of our materials," said BASF business development executive Matthias Dietrich when the deal was announced. "On the other side, we can make use of our strong research and development base, which can provide tailor-made plastics with specific combinations of properties."
While the Xeros executives declined to disclose the company’s total customer count, its financial results published in September (PDF) pegged the total number of machines installed at just under 300. In that same report, the company's CEO forecasts that Xeros will be installing about 2,000 systems annually by 2020; that could include a licensing deal with a "global OEM."
It’s also working on adapting its technology for use in leather tanneries, and the financial report also hints at consumer applications.