A prototype thermoelectric dryer at ORNL can save 40 percent in clothes drying energy.

Clothes dryers that use thermoelectric heat pump technology being developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and industry partner Sheetak could use 40 percent less energy, potentially saving consumers $3 billion in utility costs.

"Each month, electric clothes dryers typically consume more than any other household appliance," said Kyle Gluesenkamp, who leads the development team for ORNL's Building Equipment Research Group. A key to the efficiency gain is that the thermoelectric heat pump recovers much of the energy required to evaporate water from the cloth.

The dryer also features a design in which not all of the elements air all the way to the drying temperature. ORNL and Sheetak (www.sheetak.com), a U.S. manufacturer of thermoelectric modules, are developing a prototype and are negotiating with appliance manufacturers.