Tuesday, November 25, 2014

News: The science behind the Xeros system


Commercialising a ground-breaking system that is the first real innovation in the laundry industry for 60 years, Rotherham-based Xeros has hailed the work of its chief scientific officer, Dr Steve Jenkins and his team based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP).

Xeros is a Leeds University spin-out that has developed a patented system using a unique method of special polymer beads rather than the usual large amounts of fresh water to clean clothes. Having moved to Rotherham, the firm secured millions in private investment before launching on the AIM stock exchange earlier this year.

The system comprises a special washing machine designed to release the beads into the drum for cleaning, and which then removes them from clothes once the cleaning is complete. The tiny, spheroidal plastic beads are able to absorb stains, stray dye, and soil, carrying them away from fabrics, resulting in a superior cleaning process that uses less water and chemicals. In commercial laundries, the technology has been proven to reduce water by up to 80%, energy by 50% and detergent by 50%.

Writing in its company blog, Xeros discusses how Dr Steve Jenkins, an eminent polymer physicist, joined the company in 2009, when the only patent in place covered the basic interaction of polymer beads with garments.

Steve (pictured) explained: "The sole procedure established was the basic one involving beads removing soil from the surface of clothing. No means had therefore been developed for preventing the redisposition of dirt or removing the beads from the drum, when washing was complete, for instance.

"My early work with Xeros included conducting experiments under far more controlled conditions than had applied previously. Factors such as the speed and direction of the drum's rotation, number of beads involved and amounts of cloth, detergent and water used, plus the mechanical action, were all more tightly regulated than before."

The company believes that Steve and the Xeros team's greatest single achievement to date has been finding a way for the beads to be extracted from the drum at the end of a wash cycle. He pioneered the process from an original position where a wash cycle left a sea of beads in the drum, from which garments had to be picked. The breakthrough development is the current flow-through process which involves the beads being pulsed into the drum, exiting through the drum perforations and, finally, being fully extracted by the end of the cycle.

Beads are constantly extracted from the wash, whilst refreshed ones are introduced to ensure that absorbent beads are available to soak up stains and loose dye. Approximately 1.5 million beads pass through the wash drum, somewhere between none at all and a tiny handful are left in the wash load once it is done.

Not only do Xeros beads last for hundreds of uses, they are also completely recyclable. The polymers used in the Xeros beads are suitable for a number of non-colour intensive applications, such as the manufacture of molded plastic parts for cars.

Jenkins added: "I oversaw six-month trials during 2011 of our 25kg commercial machine at leading London dry cleaners and an independent commercial laundry. These were successful, involving a wide variety of garment types. They proved, among other findings, that, using our system and a little detergent, garments such as mechanics' overalls could now be washed at, or close to, ambient temperature, when they had previously demanded water heated to 80 degrees centigrade.

"These trials led directly to the Xeros commercial system being launched officially last year at the Clean Show in New Orleans."

Xeros now has 30 patent families and Jenkins is part of an organisation containing about 25 research specialists, many of whom hold PhDs, a seven-strong engineering team and an in-house patent attorney.

Xeros website

Images: Xeros


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