New technology developed in Rochester is taking old process of cleaning and disinfecting dirty linens beyond the traditional bleach and hot water to new level.
"It's like a hand grenade going off inside a basketball," exclaims Paul Jewison, wildly gesturing toward a system of shiny metal tubes attached to a giant commercial tunnel washer at Textile Care Services.
He's describing the explosive reaction of water charged with a super oxidation process to disinfect and clean soiled sheets, towels and more with less water and less chemicals.
Jewison is the general manager for Textile Care Services, which cleans more than 30 million pounds of laundry per year in southwest Rochester. Much of that comes from Mayo Clinic, which is particularly fastidious about cleanliness and killing bacteria.
As an engineer, Jewison always is tinkering to make the cleaning process at TCS more efficient and effective. That interest led him collaborate on a project to create new technology in an industry not known for its innovation.
Working with Andrew Rupnow, of Omni Solutions, Jewison co-developed a new water treatment system that brings together technology from sewage treatment and industrial bottling to disinfect and clean laundry using ultraviolet light.
"The new process is like a toaster. We use electricity to kill all of the bugs completely without adding as many chemicals," he said. "This is a new way to do this."
The UV lights are the same technology Mayo Clinic uses to disinfect its hospital rooms.
It all started in February 2016, when Jewison asked a question at a presentation Rupnow was giving at a conference in Arizona.
Omni, based in Wisconsin, had a device that used UV light to disinfect laundry on a smaller scale. By September, the pair had a created a new process for use on the commercial "tunnel" washers that can clean up to 1,600 pounds of laundry at a time.
"It was the perfect marriage of knowledge," said Rupnow of the collaboration with Jewison. "It's revolutionary. There really haven't been any technology improvements in laundry in past 20 or 30 years."
The Smart Ultraviolet Light Advanced Oxidation System uses a series of UV lights to create ozone to charge the washer water. That water then is run through a separate set of tubes with another collection of bulbs for a larger blast of UV light.
The washer uses a mix of fresh water and recirculated fresh water. Using this process, washing doesn't need as much water or cleaning chemicals.
After testing the system at Textile Care, they started marketing it. By December, less than a year after they first met, Jewison and Rupnow were installing the system for a customer in Nashville, Tenn.
One mystery did surface about the process as they used it.
While the laundry seemed to be completely disinfected, they expected it to not be as white because of using less water. However, the laundry using the system came out whiter and brighter than traditional methods.
Eventually, they discovered residual hydrogen peroxide in the water zapped by the UV light was creating the chemical peroxone, which long been has used as a whitener in the paper industry.
"We had no idea. It was dumb luck," said Jewison of the happy accident that enhanced the value of the system.
Minnesota giant Ecolab Inc., which works regularly with Textile Care, soon took an interest in the device. In September, Ecolab signed an exclusive agreement to market and sell the systems, while Omni manufactures and installs them.
"I think this is very impressive," said Chris Smith, vice president and general manager of Ecolab's Textile Care division. "Laundry in not an industry where there's been a lot of innovation."
To date, 26 of the systems have been sold and installed. They are being made in Omni's shop in Baraboo, Wis.
A new manufacturing facility is being set up right now in Düsseldorf, Germany, next to Ecolab's European headquarters. The hope is have it up and running early in the first quarter of 2018. There already are orders for 150 of the systems in the next year.
"It (the system) has a lot of momentum in the industry," Smith said.
And the development is not done yet.
They just installed the next generation of the system called Trinity last month. Trinity is smaller and includes sensors to automatically adjust the UV light brightness to match the contamination of the used wash water.
"It's great. It's constantly disinfecting the water," said Jewison, showing off photos of Trinity on his phone similar to a proud father.