Bicycle-Powered Pump to Quench Third World Thirst
An innovative bicycle-powered water pump could be a boon to arid rural communities in developing nations such as Guatemala by providing a cheap, mobile and fossil-fuel free way to obtain clean water.
The water pump project grew out of a dissertation that required a student to "make something useful out of rubbish."
"When I was asked to design a novel product from waste material for my master's thesis, I never would have expected that I'd end up welding together bicycle machines in the highlands of Guatemala," said Jon Leary, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Sheffield in the UK.
Something from almost nothing
During his four month stint in Guatemala, Leary spent time improving the design for his "bicibomba movil" – a mobile bicycle-powered water pump to be used for irrigation and general water distribution – with the aid of a Guatemalan non-governmental organization called Maya Pedal.
Maya Pedal's aim is to produce machines which can improve the daily lives of locals, without them having to resort to expensive electrical or environmentally damaging fossil-fueled machines.
Accordingly, the organization designs and build a variety of bicycle machines using abandoned bikes sent over from the United States and Canada.
Their machines, which are human-powered sustainable energy sources, range from the bicilavadora (bicycle washing machine) to the bicimolino (corn grinder).
Leary created the machine using a normal bike plugged into a frame with an old electrical pump converted to a friction drive attached to the back wheel. The back tire of the bike makes direct contact with the former armature of the motor, which is covered with rubber from an old tire to give better grip.
The machine was tested to a range of heights and on flat ground the pump can achieve a flow rate of 10.5 gallons (40 liters) per minute – equal to about three normal showers. At 85 feet (26 meters), a flow rate of 1.3 gallons (5 liters) per minute can be achieved.
The bike frame can be built quickly and easily using only basic workshop tools and materials, including a few lengths of angle iron, some flat lengths of metal, bicycle seat posts and seat tubes, and a scrapped standard electric centrifugal water pump.
Water on the go
Prior to Leary's design, Maya Pedal had already produced a popular machine capable of drawing water from up to 100 feet (30 meters) below the surface. However, many farmers live on steep inclines and wanted to distribute the water once it had been extracted from the well.
As a result, unlike Maya Pedal's other static designs, Leary's bike is completely mobile – when a person is done pumping, he or she can simply flip the frame upside down and it will sit on top of the back wheel like a pannier rack.
This mobility enables users to pump from the bottom of the hill to a mid-way tank until full, and then continue pumping from the mid-way tank to the top of the hill. The number of mid-way tanks can be increased indefinitely, effectively making the pumping distance unlimited.
Internationalizing the idea
The machine is now in regular production in Guatemala and at least six more models have been made since Leary's departure from the country last summer. Leary has since produced an open source construction manual for the machine, which is freely available on Maya Pedal's web site.
The manual was recently sent to Malawi by students from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow who are involved in a rural irrigation project addressing some of the agricultural problems that the developing nation faces.
In two months' time, Leary will return to Guatemala with a team of three more of the University of Sheffield's recent mechanical engineering graduates to design, build and test a wind turbine . The turbine will be designed specifically for Maya Pedal and as a result will be constructed from recycled bicycle parts and other scrap materials.
At Maya Pedal, "There is a storeroom full of stripped down bicycle parts, a workshop full of tools and the only limit is your own imagination," Leary said. "There was never a dull day."