Bike-powered water pump
by ALEXBENADY on JUNE 9, 2010 - 2 Comments in self-sufficiency

Leary, his bike-powered-water-pump and friends

A British engineering student has invented a bicycle-powered water pump that could enable huge areas of ‘off-grid’ land to be irrigated for the first time.

Jon Leary, 24, a masters student at Sheffield Department of Mechanical Engineering was tasked to ‘make something useful out of rubbish’ for his dissertation. He came up with the idea of a ‘bicicomba movil’ –an inexpensive mobile bicycle powered water pump made from salvaged materials that can be used for irrigation and general water distribution almost anywhere in the world.

He developed the design with the help of Maya Pedal,  a Guatemalan organization that promotes pedal-powered technology. Its mission is to produce machines which can improve the daily lives of locals, without them having to resort to expensive electrical or environmentally damaging fossil fuelled machines. The organisation already has ‘bicimáquinas’ (bicycle machines) including washing machines, electrical generators and corn mills.

“I was fascinated by the idea of making useful things out of materials that are no longer wanted. It’s like an open ended scrap-heap challenge,” said Leary. “During my research I found Maya Pedal which has a track record in bicycle-powered technology and I asked them if they had any needs. They told me they already had a static pump for bringing water to the surface but they needed a way of moving both water and the pump to different locations.”

Energy Independence

But Leary is adamant that his device isn’t simply an engineering exercise. It has a clear ideological sub text. “We already have all the ways to make people’s lives better all over the world. The challenge is to bring this technology in an affordable way to people who need it. I love the idea of liberating people from the grid. Its time people woke up to the idea of energy independence,” he said.

Leary spent four months in Guatemala observing the needs of farmers and honing his original design. “These people are virtually broke. While they already had cheap and easy ways of bringing water to the surface, many farmers lived on steep inclines and had no way of distributing the water once it had been extracted from the well. Currently they use diesel powered pumps which are expensive, or carry water manually which is time consuming.”

Scavenged materials

He built his machine using an old bicycle plugged into a frame with an old electrical pump scavenged from a washing machine, converted to a friction drive attached to the back wheel. The back tyre of the bike makes direct contact with the former armature of the motor, which is covered with rubber from an old tyre to give better grip. When it’s time to pump, a pannier frame containing the pump flips down from above the back wheel to beneath it. The rider then pedals in place, spinning the armature and powering the pump.

Leary claims his pump can move up to 40 litres per minute over a couple of hundred feet horizontally and can achieve a flow rate of 5 litres per minute when moving water 26 metres vertically.

The device can be built in less than half a day using donated bikes and scavenged pumps. Depending on who is pedalling it can produce 3-400 watts, or around half a horse power, and its sells for around $35. But its big advantage is its mobility, says Leary. Users can pump from the bottom of the hill to a mid-way tank until it is full. Then they continue pumping from the mid-way tank to the top of the hill. The number of mid-way tanks can be increased indefinitely, making the pumping distance unlimited. Significantly it means that previously uncultivated land can now be farmed.

The machine is now in production in Guatemala and at least six more models have been made since Jon left the country last summer. He has produced an open source construction manual for the machine, which is available on Maya Pedal´s web site. The manual was recently sent to Malawi by students from the University of Strathclyde involved in a rural irrigation project aiming to address some of the agricultural problems that the developing nation is facing.

Leary’s next project is to design a wind turbine for his Phd.

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2 comments

1 A.Azulay { 02.24.11 at 5:29 pm }

Great idea. But it’s needed everywhere, not just in “developing” countries. We over-developed waste-dumps need new ideas for living independently and without harming the environment.

2 CTDorenkamp { 05.27.11 at 2:14 pm }

Totally agree with first commenter Azulay. This and many other “low-tech” solutions are needed in EVERY household everywhere in order to kick our oil and nuclear addictions. How many homes have power-consuming exercise equipment? Imagine: pedal-driven water pump “batteries” + human muscle power, 1+1=? …enough to generate at least small amounts of stored electricity for homes. Why can’t ALL home exercise equipment drive water or other energy-potential??

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