October 2014 archive

Heat-pump clothes dryer

At the Nyle Corp. in Bangor, Maine, there are a half-dozen prototype electric clothes dryers that claim some impressive attributes:

  • They are not vented, so they can be put nearly anywhere.
  • They run on 110-volt circuits; most electric dryers require 220 volts.
  • They circulate a larger volume of more humid air; thus they are gentler to fabrics and reduce static cling.
  • The cabinets are insulated, which makes the machines very quiet.
  • Best of all, they use one-third the energy of a standard electric dryer.

What are these machines? “Basically they are dehumidifiers,” explains Donald Lewis, president of Nyle and holder of the relevant patents. He explains: “Using a refrigeration cycle similar to what is used in a heat pump, we cool the air and condense out the water. The latent heat removed in condensing the water we immediately put back into the air. In addition, we constantly add heat from the compressor. And while most clothes dryers vent about five thousand cubic feet of air per drying cycle, we don’t vent any air, so the temperature keeps rising.”

Just as a heat pump in most climates will heat a house more efficiently than will electric-resistance elements, a heat-pump (or dehumidifying) clothes dryer will burn less energy to dry clothes. The diagram and caption give the details.

Nyle based the clothes-dryer design on much bigger machines.

“We make commercial lumber- and leather-drying systems and food dehydrators,” says Lewis. Looking for ways to expand the business, he decided the technology could be used in a residential clothes dryer. So he applied for and got a $90,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant (from the Inventions Program in the Office of Energy Utilization) to build the prototypes.

“There have been heat-pump dryers on the market in Europe,” Lewis points out, “but they’ve never been popular because they take a long time to dry a load of clothes.” That’s because they don’t get very hot.

Like most refrigeration systems, they are engineered to work within a narrow temperature range. Lewis explains: If the system is optimized to work at relatively low air temperatures, then as the temperature gets higher all the refrigerant inside the evaporator coil will boil and turn to gas without absorbing enough heat from the passing air to drop it to its dew point and condense out some water vapor. For this reason the European dryers have a top temperature of about 125 degrees F.

On the other hand, if the system is optimized to work at a relatively high air temperature, then at the beginning of the cycle when the temperature is low, the evaporator would chill the air so much that the coil would freeze. Lewis’s solution is to send only part of the air over the evaporator and to vary the percentage in response to changing temperature. So when the air contains fewer Btu, a greater volume of air is delivered. Conversely, when it contains more Btu, the quantity of air is reduced.

The dryer can use either automatic dampers (as shown) or a variable-speed fan at the evaporator coil to alter the airflow pattern. It operates efficiently within a temperature range of 60 to 160 degrees F, Lewis claims.

David Mello, the DOE invention coordinator who supervised the agency’s grant to Nyle, speaks highly of the heat-pump dryer. “It’s a fine product and makes a lot of sense for a lot of good reasons,” he notes. “Refrigeration systems are among the most trouble-free machines we have: You plug them in and they work. Except for the fact that it uses a chlorofluorocarbon,” Mello goes on, “the Nyle dryer really doesn’t seem to have a down side.” (Chlorofluorocarbons are implicated in the destruction of Earth’s protective ozone, but the dryers can be engineered to use whatever replacement fluids are developed, according to Lewis.)

Nyle had arranged for an offshore manufacturer to make the dryers, but economic problems in the country sank the deal. Now new negotiations are in progress.

A heat-pump dryer will sell for around $800, Lewis predicts, about twice the price of a conventional dryer. “People would have to pay more for them at first,” Mello concurs. “But if they ever caught on, the guys making the conventional kind would be hard pressed to compete.”

Blow dry

We began designing hair dryers back before the gun style was introduced, even before the development of the bonnet with the plastic belt hitch that helped you dry your hair and vacuum at the same time. In fact, we started out before the concept of towel drying, at a time when people dried their hair by sticking their heads out the window. Since then we’ve been allowed to design 1,139 models, both in and out of the sanatorium.

The first dryer we produced had a broad handle and a soft, feminine look, and, in fact, we needed only three attempts before we came up with “Myra,” the hair dryer shaped like a voluptuous woman. Our company, Mr. Dry, didn’t like where the hot air blew out, and when we refused to change it they had us put away.

After the treatments we designed a dryer with a different concept much more sedate and, well, psychotropic. In, fact, it was a hair dryer that looked like a giant Thorazine capsule, because, well, that was all we thought about in those days. It was cordless and had a cylinder that was half red and half clear, with white stuff inside. We ran into mechanical difficulties when the hot air blew inward and melted all the wiring.

When we got out, we decided, Damn it, let’s have a little fun. People are supposed to enjoy themselves while drying their hair, and we’re going to help them. In a frenzy we went to Macy’s and smashed all the hair dryers on the floor, and after Mr. Dry paid the bail we came up with a new model. Look, the brush element snaps on and off. And the comb element, see, you can snap that on and off too, and it also has a removable roller element. The handle snaps off too, and so does the motor.

After the Macy’s incident Mr. Dry decided that we should lie low for a while in a place like India, so they shipped us off with only our Japanese watch and told us to come back with some new designs.

Not one person we met during our stay in Calcutta had ever used a hair dryer, but they did have this marvelous philosophy where you sit around all day and think about just one thing or a sound or a word.

We thought about hair dryers not sometimes, but every minute of every day until they notified us of the hearing. The result was Essence of Hair Dryer. Of all the 4.5 billion people on this planet, we were chosen by God to create the ultimate hair dryer, and I’m telling you, this one is a beauty. Look at it–it’s simple yet it has a lot of detail. Look at the way the nozzle attaches to the body. It screws on like a light bulb. And the on/ off switch isn’t cluttered with a lot of confusing speeds like low, medium, and high. The switch is simple and direct on, off.

The day we returned from India, the judge ordered us to the home. They were very nice to us there, and to keep us quiet they gave us their entire collection of cardboard tubes from paper towels, mostly, and toilet tissue. Despite the treatments, we soon realized that the tubes reminded us of blow dryers. We liked playing with them, and the doctors encouraged us to pretend that we were drying our own hair, and they kept asking us how our mother felt about personal hair-care products. We began to feel and to relate in ways we had never dreamed of–if you reversed two tubes and had the air blow into your sleeve, what would that do? What if you took two small, three medium, and four large tubes and connected them to a lawn mower could you style your hair and cut grass at the same time? The ideas obsessed us until we arrived at the final product: a hair dryer that was nothing but different-sized paper tubes. It was a dryer we fell in love with. It was a dryer we wanted to do illicit things with. And in the end it was a dryer that spoke to us. That was when they took it away. Mr. Dry told us it sold very well in the stores, and that made up for every minute of the electroshock therapy.

After they found out that the electroshock had destroyed half of our brain cells, Mr. Dry thought we should design a dryer that expressed our sense of fun at having the mind of a six-year-old again. So we fashioned a dryer that was nonintellectual, illiterate, and, in the words of the television commercial, “fit for an idiot.” The excitement of youth shows in what we called it–“Baby Blow,” the little one, the one that leaves your hair wet no matter how long you stand there holding it to your head. We’ve projected the feeling of youth right through to the picture on the package a picture of a man drooling.

We find that people are very sensitive about their personal hair-care products and in particular that they want to have an enormous emotional high when grooming. For them it’s not just a matter of fixing the hair. It’s plugging into the cultural voltage of a whole generation.

Sometimes when we think about our accomplishments, we have to step back and say, “We have not created Truth or Beauty or even disposable neckties.” But let us not forget that we have created the Mr. Dry 901 and that people respond to it on a daily basis. And we know that how well the dryer works doesn’t matter, as long as it brings a little style into the home.

Cell phones + teen drivers = danger?

These days, teens always have their cell phones on hand. However, lawmakers want to make sure that the phones stay off when teens are driving. California passed a law in September prohibiting anyone under age 18 from using a cell phone while driving. Adults, however, may use hands-free devices while behind the wheel. Altogether, 17 states and the District of Columbia have banned or restricted teen drivers’ cell phone use.

Some lawmakers say that limiting phone usage will save teen lives. In 2005, the latest year for which data is available, 5,699 teens ages 16 to 20 died in car crashes. Drivers from 16 to 20 accounted for 27.4 percent of all fatal crashes, but they represented less than 7 percent of all drivers. Opponents of the new laws, however, say that the cell phone restriction should extend to all drivers, not just teens.

Two of CE’s student reporters took on this debate. Ky Sisson of Nevada takes the pro-ban stance, and Kayla Hill of Kentucky reports on why the law shouldn’t single out teens.


If teens are either talking or texting on their cell phones while driving, it’s a distraction. A 2002 study by the Ford Motor Company found teen drivers are more likely to be distracted by cell phones than adults are. Dialing a cellphone resulted in teens’ crossing lane lines 53.8 percent more often than when not using the phone, according to the study. That’s why California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the recent ban. “The simple fact is that teenage drivers are more easily distracted,” Schwarzenegger said.

Teens are less experienced drivers and need to keep their eyes on the road. Driver Kelly R., 17, of Reno, Nev., said texting is a big distraction. “I actually tried it once while driving and got honked at because my head was looking practically at my feet.”


Although the ban is meant to ensure the safety of young drivers, it is a prime example of stereotyping teenagers. Teens have the right to drive, so they should receive the same privileges that all drivers have. Teens should not be singled out when it comes to unsafe driving with the use of cell phones because all drivers can be careless behind the wheel, no matter how old they are.

Furthermore, if cell phones are banned now, what’s next? Many things can be driving distractions, such as eating and having passengers. Grace H., a teen from Louisville, Ky., stated, “If you want to put a ban on something that distracts people from driving, you might as well ban everything that could be considered a distraction like (passengers) or food.”

Get Talking

Ask students: Do you have a cell phone? If so, do you text message? Can you concentrate on other things while having a conversation or text messaging?

Notes Behind the News

  • In 2006, more than 400,000 passengers ages 15 to 19 were injured in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Teenage male drivers are one and a half times more likely to die in car crashes than teenage female drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • A 2002 Ford Motor Company study found that teen drivers tend to follow other cars at closer distances and have less control of their vehicles than more experienced drivers. The study concluded that teens should be discouraged from using cell phones while driving because of the level of distraction the devices cause. The study included 48 adults ages 35 to 66 and 15 teenagers.
  • In 2006, there were 233 million cell phone subscribers in the United States, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. That’s 76 percent of U.S. households.

Doing More

Have students use the Internet to research teen driving and cell phone restrictions in your state. Does your state have a law restricting or banning cell phone use by teen drivers? Have students use their research to write essays explaining why they think their state’s law is good or bad.

Cell phone hang-up: should there be an all-out ban on cell phone use while driving?

More and more Americans are racking up minutes as they rack up miles. About 80 percent of U.S. drivers said they use cell phones at the wheel, according to a public opinion poll by Nationwide Insurance. The National Safety Council wants to reduce that number. NSC officials say all cell phone use should be banned behind the wheel–including hands-free devices.

They cited research from the University of Utah showing that using a hands-free phone is just as risky as using a handheld one. “It’s not that your hands aren’t on the wheel,” said David Strayer, principal author of the Utah study. “It’s that your mind is not on the road.” The researchers concluded that talking on a mobile phone while driving makes you four times more likely to get into an accident–posing the same level of risk as a drunken driver. “When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It’s time to take the cell phone away,” Janet Froetscher, NSC president, told CNN.

Opponents say an all-out ban would be impractical and hard to enforce. They say people need to stay connected, and drivers just have to be smart about when and how they use their cell phones.

“We believe there can be safe, sensible, responsible [cell phone] use for a brief period of time,” John Walls, CTIA-The Wireless Association’s vice president of public affairs, told CNN. That group says cell phones have been unfairly singled out from a host of other driving distractions, such as reaching for objects, listening to the radio, personal grooming, eating, reading, and other passengers.

Current Events student reporters Betsy Potter and Sam Hotchkiss pick up the debate.


There should be an all-out ban on cell phones behind the wheel because talking on a cell phone while driving causes accidents. Studies say the risk is the same as drinking and driving, which is illegal. Banning cell phone use would help ensure the safety of all drivers as well as pedestrians.

When you are talking on the phone, your brain is focused on the conversation instead of on the road, and that can easily lead to an accident.

Jeanie Johnson, of Gothenburg, Neb., says such a ban should exist. “I think that there should be an all-out ban on cell phones while driving because having a conversation distracts drivers from paying attention to the road.”

Although it may be difficult to enforce and there is much controversy surrounding the issue, I think that all cell phone use by drivers should be banned. It is clear that they pose a safety risk for drivers.


A complete ban of cell phone use while driving is unnecessary. Only six states currently ban handheld calling while driving; no state bans all types of cell phone use while driving. States should ban handheld phones before they consider banning all cell phones. More studies need to be done to prove that an all-out ban would save lives.

There are a variety of other distractions that are just as dangerous as talking on a cell phone. If you get into a heated argument with a passenger, you may end up losing control of the car. And of course, drunken drivers are a major cause of car accidents, along with inexperienced drivers.

An all-out ban on using cell phones while driving would not work. People need to just be smart.

Get Talking

Ask: Do you think all cell phones should be banned while driving? What about texting? Should other distractions be banned? Why might such bans be difficult to enforce?

Notes Behind the News

* The first law banning handheld cell phone use while driving went into effect in New York in 2001. As of October 2008, four other states–California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington–plus Washington, D.C., had also banned handheld cell phones while driving. Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have laws banning or restricting young drivers from using cell phones. California bans the use of any mobile device by drivers younger than 18–including cell phones, broadband personal communication devices, specialized mobile radio devices, and laptop computers. Driving while texting is banned in seven states–Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington–plus Washington, D.C. Read about state driving laws at tinyurl.com/statelaws and at tinyurl.com/drivingphones.

* The University of Utah study of 96 drivers found that cell phone users had slower reaction times than non-cellphone users. Eye-tracking studies showed that while non-cell phone users continually looked from side to side, cellphone users tended to stare straight ahead.

* The National Safety Council also cited a 2003 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis that estimated cellphone use when driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes each year, resulting in 330,000 injuries, 12,000 of them serious and 2,600 of them fatal. The study put the estimated annual cost of cell phone-related crashes at $43 billion.

Doing More

Have students create their own rules for cell phone etiquette. When is it proper to use cell phones? When is it not?