Necessity is mother of invention for a greener world

18 Jun 2009

In 1973, Sir James Dyson had an idea: the first uncloggable and bagless vacuum cleaner. It went on to become one of the popular brands in Ireland and the UK, with green energy ethics at its core

A common theme in Dyson inventions is that they are quite energy efficient. What are the tenets of good green design?

Green technology should be more than a token gesture or a marketing gimmick. In product design, one of the most important factors to consider is how much energy that design uses in its working life. You need to make sure your design doesn’t waste energy, but still does the job well.

You changed the industry with the Dyson vacuum cleaner, but the technology in the electric hand dryer as we know it has been around for over 50 years. What inspired you to deconstruct this traditional model?

It had always annoyed me that you have to rub your hands on your trousers after using other dryers, so I wanted to develop one that worked properly.

The key to the Dyson Airblade’s success is the development of our own digital motor, which enabled us to create a dryer that works in just 10 seconds by scraping water from hands like a windscreen wiper. The Dyson digital motor helps make the machine much more efficient – up to 80pc more so than conventional warm air dryers.

With the climate change topic heating up, big brands are factoring in energy efficiency into the final product. How much do environmental concerns and global warming issues feature in your own design approach?

It should be a focus for any designer or engineer. We always look at making our machines perform well, so you don’t have to spend longer than you should on a task. We ensure that they are energy efficient. And we build them to last – to reduce the number that are thrown out or recycled.

Environmental research feeds into the design process at an early, conceptual stage. Being economical extends to using fewer materials – making machines smaller, lighter, faster and more efficient.

Is it fair to say green technology has more scope for inventive engineering and original design approaches by virtue of having to think outside the box?

The urgency of the environmental situation is compelling inventors to think up ever more radical ideas. Green technology is a real opportunity for engineers and scientists to demonstrate how important they are to society.

It’s a relatively new challenge, but one we really need to embrace. We need to look at the most efficient solutions. For instance, we should be building tidal turbines to generate electricity.

The UK has 50pc of Europe’s tidal power – we need to take advantage of it. Last year, Ireland-based OpenHydro said it was the first tidal energy company to complete the connection of a tidal turbine to the UK national grid and begin generating electricity.

Much of your life has been devoted to harnessing and controlling the power of air – after the Dyson cleaners and the Airblade, where will this take you next? Would you ever consider looking at wind-energy creation?

We design products rather than big industrial projects because that’s what we’re good at, but never say never. There are plenty of good things coming out of the UK and Ireland. On a political level, there are organisations like Sustainable Energy Ireland. Irish investment in the wind and tidal energy industries is particularly encouraging.

By Marie Boran