Design challenge seeks portable, renewables-powered alternative to diesel water pump

water pumping India
CC BY 3.0 vishwaant

In many areas of the world, particularly in parts of India where a power grid isn't available (or is unreliable), small farmers water their crops using cheap diesel pumps for irrigation. These types of pumps, while they can be affordable for small-scale farmers to purchase, are not only dirty (in terms of air and water pollution), but are also subject to the rising costs of diesel fuel, which cuts into the farmer's slim profit margins.

The solution may lie in developing a water pump that is as affordable as the small diesel models, but is instead powered by a renewable energy source. A pump that can use clean, renewable, energy to run not only reduces the environmental impact of the pumps, but has the potential to boost the income of small-scale farmers by reducing their operating costs.

A new open design challenge from Greenpeace aims to not only find the best possible alternative to the portable diesel pump, but to also get the design prototyped and field-tested, and offers cash awards, expert feedback, and a possible consulting contract for developing the design.

"In India, diesel pumps are currently the dominant technology for off-grid farmers to irrigate their fields: they’re cheap and reliable. Rising diesel prices, costly maintenance, and externalities like pollution are starting to make them less attractive, necessitating a search for a renewably powered alternative. Solar pumps exist, but have a number of problems: they’re expensive, fragile, easily stolen, and viewed as unproven, so their adoption remains marginal. There is currently no pump available on the market that meets the needs of the Indian small farmer, with an unsubsidized price low enough to compete with the diesel pumps.

To come up with an alternative pump design, we’re hosting a challenge that’s a little different from most engineering competitions. The process is transparent: as soon as a design is submitted it’s open to the public and other entrants to review. Participants get feedback from experts in the field and the opportunity to iterate on their design in a real-world scenario, a valuable experience in addition to a shot at 30,000 Euro in prize money and a chance to work with us to prototype their concept in farmer’s fields in Bihar, India." - Greenpeace Energy [R]evolution Challenge

The challenge briefing asks for the designs to adhere to these requirements:

  • Portable:
    • theft prevention -- farmer can take it inside the house at night and when away
    • can be easily used at different wells / by water merchants
    • easy transport for demonstration and sale in local markets
  • Robust under Bihar climate and rural use conditions, locally serviceable
  • Pump and deliver enough water to irrigate 1 hectare of typical Bihar produce (wheat or vegetables) from a depth of 5m. A micro irrigation water delivery system can be part of the system, but its cost must be included in the total system cost.
  • Total system cost must not exceed “one lakh” Indian rupees (100,000 rupees; ca. US$ 1500 at current exchange rate)
  • Assuming a groundwater table at 5m depth

Participants are eligible for four prizes, including an Early Bird Prize (for the two best ideas submitted in the first four weeks), a Jury Prize (for three entrants that are willing to be personally involved in the development of the idea in India), a Community Prize (9000 euros divided among the top ten community-voted ideas), and a Consulting Package (a consulting contract to support the development of prototypes, as well as possible licensing and manufacturing).

So far, a variety of different solutions have been submitted, ranging from practical and proven technologies (such as this solar pump and this solar steam engine) to weird but very creative ideas, such as a goat-powered treadmill and a nanotech glass spiral design.

If you've got appropriate experience or skills that could be helpful for feedback or advice, or you've got a design to submit yourself, head over to the Greenpeace Challenge page at Jovoto and find out more. The Challenge submission deadline is November 15, 2013, so don't delay!

Tags: Agriculture | Design Competitions | Technology | Water Crisis