A team of students recognized that clothes driers are inefficient.
"They take up a ton of energy and people are constantly running them, so we need to solve that problem," Santa Clara University senior Liz Papangellin said.
That's what the team of Santa Clara University students did. By adding a heat exchanger to an ordinary dryer, they recycle the warm exhaust that comes out the back.
The students say it's the first of its kind.
"It's kind of surprising that the idea hasn't been come up with yet, but there's always got to be the first person to do it," Santa Clara University senior Tim Hussey said.
Add a small rooftop unit that heats air with solar power and they cut the dryer's energy use by 84 percent.
"We were shocked, it was crazy, but we're really excited," Papangellin said.
They were even more excited to enter the national Max Tech and Beyond Design Competition to build greener appliances, hosted at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
"Our interest is to push energy efficiency as rapidly as we can to address very, very serious problems of climate change," competition organizer Karina Garbesi said.
Moving a dryer isn't exactly the easiest thing, but the students didn't have to, because in another energy saving move, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory hosted the competition virtually. Via phone and Web conference, nine teams, including two from Santa Clara, showed their ideas to a panel of judges.
The results aren't in yet, but organizers hope the ultimate winner will be society.
"Training engineers to work in an area that heretofore has not been considered sexy, which is energy efficiency," Garbesi said.