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Design Lab eco-future of home appliances

Design Lab eco-future of home appliances

A compact washing machine that uses nuts that grow on trees rather than laundry detergent; a device that turns plastic shopping bags into compost; and a detergent-free compact dishwasher that uses the cleaning power of water alone – do these represent the eco-friendly future of home appliances?

They will if the innovative products emerging from Electrolux’s Design Lab competition go into production.

Design students from around the world were last year given the challenge to design environmentally sound, commercially viable products that would help consumers live in greater harmony with the environment.

And the winner was a compact washing machine that, instead of using environmentally damaging laundry detergent, uses soap nuts – which grow on trees.

"E-wash" designer Lvente Szabó, of Hungary, says his starting point was the polluting effect of washing clothes and producing, packaging and transporting the detergent. "The soapnut is a natural plant and can be cultivated," he says. "It does not harm nature but is part of it."

In India and Nepal people have used soapnuts (sapindus mucorossi) for centuries, and Szabó says a kilogram of the nuts will last a typical person a year.

Design Lab juror and Electrolux head of Global Design Henrik Otto says the E-wash is "a brilliant connection between ancient knowledge and high-tech".

The possibility of turning plastic shopping bags into garden compost comes from Taiwanese student Juan Ying-Ho’s "Return Pot" design, which was a finalist.

The Return Pot works on bags made from polyactic acid resin and, within a few days, turns them into water, compost and a small amount of CO2.

Another finalist, the Pure Washer compact dishwasher and sink, is the brainchild of German student Tatjana Voronova, who was inspired by the dish-washing dilemmas that emerged from sharing a small kitchen with two flatmates.

The Pure Washer is half sink, half dishwasher – when people place their dirty dishes in the "sink" it rotates under the bench and washes them. There is no need to wait until it is full and because dishes are washed immediately, it only takes a couple of minutes – and much less water – to clean them.

Not only that but it does all this without any detergent, so decreasing pollution.

Other finalists include a cooking pot powered by spray-on solar cells; a solar-powered household air cleaner that uses filters made from charcoal, water and naturally antibiotic phytoncides; a fog shower that uses only 2 litres of water for a five-minute shower, compared with 26 litres for the most water-efficient existing shower head; an energy-saving fridge with individual compartments that store each food at the right temperature; and a home composting system.

Rosalie Davison of Electrolux New Zealand says the finalists and winners of the Design Lab competition all came up with innovative, and useful, home appliances that have great potential for making consumers’ lives easier, while helping them care for the environment.

"We all want to do our bit for the environment, but we also lead busy lives and need appliances that are convenient, easy-to-use and save us time. The entries in Design Lab show it’s possible for appliances to meet all these needs."

Electrolux is evaluating the designs to see if they could be produced for commercial release, she says.

Design Lab is an annual global design competition open to undergraduate and graduate industrial design students, who are invited to present innovative ideas for household appliances of the future.

Entries are now open for the 2008 Design Lab, with students being asked to create home appliances for the internet generation. First prize is €5000 and a six-month internship at one of Electrolux’s global design centres. Entries close on May 30.

The first competition, held in 2003, was open to students of three design schools in Europe only. Since then Electrolux has developed the project to a global scale and opened it up to design students from around the world, including New Zealand.

For more details on entering this year’s competition, visit

Photo: Winner of Design Lab 2007 E-wash. Designer Lvente Szabó, of Hungary


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