It might sound like science fiction but the revolutionary use of ozone gas to clean clothes and linen is paying a big dividend to a Rotorua boutique commercial laundry – both financially and environmentally.
Managing director Philippa Lewis estimates she is saving the business - Tendercare - thousands of dollars in gas costs for heating every year because up to 90 per cent of their washing is now done in cold water.
Despite growing the laundry's capacity by up to two-thirds - and significantly increasing its production rate - its gas costs have barely risen.
"By my calculations this represents a huge saving," says Lewis. "I wouldn't want to give an actual figure but I can tell you it would be well into the thousands of dollars a year. We are doing way more washing than before, yet our gas costs have hardly changed.
"It is very gratifying and I'm very happy. When you are able to benefit the environment at the same time as save money, then you're on to a winner.
"It's easy, safe and extremely effective. From my perspective, I've been able to reduce costs and make the business more competitive, while doing something positive for the environment," she says.
Tendercare began using ozone technology two years ago. With the assistance of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) and ELS, an innovative Auckland laundry technology company, it launders commercial quantities of linen and towels using nothing more than cold water, detergent and ozone gas.
While ozone technology has been used internationally for years, Tendercare was the first commercial laundry in New Zealand to pick up the innovation.
Most people are familiar with oxidising agents that can be bought from the supermarket which remove stains by oxidisation - ozone works in the same way, by breaking the chemical bonds of stains, such as soil or food, via oxidation, which then releases them from the fabric.
Ozone also kills bacteria and viruses that may be present in clothes and fabrics at extraordinary rates, by causing oxidative damage to biological cells. It kills
microorganisms found in dirty laundry around 3,000 times faster than bleach.
Comprised of three oxygen atoms, ozone is formed in the atmosphere when oxygen comes into contact with highly charged electrical energy during a storm.
A laundry ozone gas generator replicates the conditions of a storm, introducing ozone into the water under pressure. The gas cleans, whitens and brightens and destroys bacteria – all without the use of hot water – before it naturally reverts back to oxygen.
Heat causes ozone gas to break down quickly, which is why ozone is actually more effective at lower temperatures – meaning large savings on the water heating bill.
Lewis was busy planning the 21-year-old laundry's expansion when she attended a trade show in the US in 2015 and came across the technology. It promised huge efficiency gains, while reducing the impact on the environment.
Impressed, Lewis returned to New Zealand and did her homework. She found Justin Treagus's company ELS, which was able to supply an ozone generator unit built by US company NuTek. Treagus also directed Lewis to the EECA Technology Demonstration programme.
The government scheme provides co-funding support to early adopters of new and under-utilised technologies if it will deliver energy and/or carbon emissions savings.
Lewis was attracted to the environmentally-friendly nature of the technology: "When considering how to run the business, we've always tried to incorporate processes that are a wee bit kinder to the environment than traditional ones," she says.
Lewis's application to EECA was successful, and she began working with its technology innovation manager Dinesh Chand, producing the business case for introducing the technology and documenting the results.
Treagus endorses the generators as a means to reduce energy and water costs. "After the installation of an ozone generator, the instances where hot water might be needed are minimal, so we're confident in saying that users will save up to 90 per cent on their water heating bill and up to 30 per cent on their water bill," he says.
The Tendercare laundry is one of about 15 Technology Demonstration co-funded projects under way with EECA at any one time, across a range of locations and industries.
Chand says the final part of each partnership is to make public the findings and results of the project – so similar businesses around New Zealand can learn about the technology, replicate the results, and avoid some common pitfalls.
"The five year New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy (2017-2022) informs our direction to encourage new and innovative ways of working. Along with energy efficiency, the focus is more and more on emissions reduction and renewable technologies and the ozone generator is a wonderful example of that."
The EECA Technology Demonstration programme provides co-funding support to early adopters of new technologies delivering energy and/or carbon emissions savings in New Zealand. Funding is available up to a maximum of 40 per cent of the cost of a project (up to $100,000 per project).
For more information see the funding and support page at www.eecabusiness.govt.nz