Researchers from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) have developed a river pump that works without electricity. The device is made with recycled elements, is low cost, easy to build and has the capacity to pump up to seven thousand liters of water per day. It is specially designed for populations far from the electricity grid, as it uses the kinetic energy of the river for its extraction.
“We work with technologies that we sat down to design together with the producers, meeting their needs and available resources. This way, we avoid building things that later do not match reality”, explains the industrial designer Lucas Zanovelloone of the technicians responsible for the project, based at the Institute of Research and Technological Development for Family Agriculture (IPAF) Patagonia Region, belonging to INTA.
Lack of access to public electricity and water services is a recurrent problem for many family farmers who live far from big cities. That’s why the researchers created a prototype that not only harnesses the energy of rivers and streams, but can also be assembled with materials available in the area. “To make these pumps, we looked for elements in the chacaritas, such as hoses, tanks and other disused materials that we found there”, says Zanovello.
The pump’s construction is simple enough that it can be replicated by anyone who needs it., alone or with the help of a technician. As in recent years it has received numerous queries from producers from different geographical areas, INTA’s technical team has just launched a step-by-step guide to facilitate the construction process.
Do it yourself
The idea arose several years ago, when producers in the Alto Valle de Río Negro who lived in areas without electricity approached IPAF Patagonia technicians to consult about breaking the motorized pumps they used to extract water from the river. These fuel-using devices are expensive to repair and operate.
“An alternative was to use solar pumps, but it requires a high investment at the beginning. That’s why we decided to look for another way to pump the water”, recalls Zanovello. Then, They made a series of prototypes with different materials until they reached one that could pump seven thousand liters of water a dayat a height of three meters in a channel with a velocity of one meter per second.
The prototype developed by the researchers consists of a floating tank made from a plastic pot with a conical shape; a series of disused hoses wound inside the drum that function as coils; a propeller-shaped fan blade and a swivel hitch made from brass sprinklers that were no longer used for irrigation. From the device comes a hose that ends in a container with the capacity to collect water. Technicians recommend using materials without invasive corrosion, such as UV-protected plastics, bronze, aluminum, and stainless steel..
To extract the water, the river pump must be placed in the channel so that it floats with half of the body submerged. The movement of the water drives the propeller constantly and this energy activates the coils inside the drum.that rotate and incorporate enough pressure to exit through the hose towards the collection container.
“Actually, the principle of operation at the level of physics is a rather complex phenomenon, but manufacturing is very simple. Anyone with basic tools can do it.”, points out Zanovello. The prototype can be adapted to the elements and needs of each area. The researchers also tested a model with longer hoses and a larger drum that, placed 8 meters high, pumped up to 20,000 liters a day.
It can also be adapted to the characteristics of the channel where it will be installed.. They recently tested the device in a creek in Salta and had to adapt it to its shallow depth. Then they made an adaptation with lighter materials for secondary irrigation canals, where the water flows more slowly. In the case of mountain streams, which descend at high speed, it was necessary to add protection elements so that the pump did not break.
cheap and customizable
One of the strong points of the device is the low manufacturing cost.. “If the materials are bought from scratch, it costs around 15 or 20 thousand pesos. If you are smart and look for the elements in a junkyard or in your backyard, the costs are much cheaper”, says the researcher. In 2022, the river pump was awarded at the INNOVAR National Innovation Contest, promoted by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.
To crown the development, the technicians systematized the different experiences and prepared a construction guide. The instructions have already circulated internally at INTA and were tested by technicians who work with the issue of access to water, who manufactured similar prototypes with some modifications. “It was interesting because innovation was produced by experimentation, with the elements that each one had. This is called open design, where you network to generate different solutions to common problems.”, comments the researcher.
In addition, the team is setting up a collaborative site to centralize the experiences of all users. There, each person who replicates the device will be able to upload images and count which items they usedwhat problems they had and everything they want to contribute to improving this social technology.
For their part, IPAF researchers will continue to work on optimizing different aspects of the pump, such as the durability of the device and the use of other materials. “We are looking at how we can make barriers to prevent floating elements that may be in a river, such as tree branches, from breaking the pump.. We are also making a renewed design of the blades, with 3D printing, which we will have to test to see how they work”, highlights Zanovello.