The LifePump Solution

The Problem

More than 663 million people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. This reality means that many women and children around the world spend hours every day walking miles to collect water from streams and puddles that are usually contaminated. The unsafe water leads to disease and death, and the time spent collecting water means sacrificing other opportunities such as going to school, farming, or starting a business. Providing clean water is a crucial first step in bringing health and economic opportunity to a community.

It sounds simple, but there are challenges to providing clean water. In many villages, the water table is too deep for traditional hand pumps. Even if water is accessible, the pumps are often unreliable, sometimes needing repairs after only a few months of use. Studies show that many hand pumps break down every six months, with an average repair time of nearly a month–if they are repaired at all.

Alarming statistics show that in many African countries, one-third of installed hand pumps are no longer working. Tragically, there are over 125,000 nonfunctioning wells in Africa, leaving 31 million people with no access to clean water.

The Solution

Design Outreach (DO) began working on a completely new hand-powered water pump that was more reliable and could reach water in the deepest wells. The first pump was successfully installed in the village of Yamando, Central African Republic, in partnership with Water for Good. This prototype was able to pump to water from 400 feet deep! Previously, Yamando’s well sat unused because there was no pump available that could get the water out.

After testing in one village, DO immediately began working on a second-generation pump, incorporating the lessons learned from the first design. The team went back to the Central African Republic again with this new and improved version and saw much better results. DO continued tweaking the design, and today, DO is proud of the third-generation pump called the LifePump.

Design Outreach’s LifePump has been designed to last longer and reach deeper than commonly available pumps. The LifePump can be outfitted with monitoring devices to provide timely and valuable feedback. All of these improvements will help water organizations become more effective in fulfilling their mission of delivering clean water to those in need.

The LifePump uses a completely different pumping mechanism than traditional hand pumps. Unlike standard piston pumps that lift the entire column of water every time the user pushes down on the lever, the LifePump continuously draws water to the surface as the user rotates the handles. This allows virtually anyone, regardless of strength or size, to access safe water.

The design also minimizes wear on parts and ensures that the pump lasts for years before needing maintenance. In a clockwise rotary motion, LifePump users turn the handles mounted on a right-angle bevel gearbox, which then rotates drive rods that are connected to the helix-shaped rotor (which is underwater at the bottom of the borehole). Also at the bottom of the borehole sits the stainless steel rotor and elastomeric stator, which combined is called a progressive cavity pump (PCP).

PCPs are extremely durable and operate when the rotor turns relative to the stator, creating progressing pockets of water that are pushed to the surface. This mechanism allows PCPs to pump from extreme depths, where piston or diaphragm-style pumps are unable to operate.

Unlike traditional hand pumps, the LifePump is designed to wear slowly over time–after years of operation–in order to prevent catastrophic failure that would leave users suddenly without water. Longevity is critical, and through lab and field testing, the LifePump has proven to be much more durable than other hand pumps. This is accomplished in part by using heavy-duty components fabricated from stainless steel or, in some cases, high-strength steel that is coated or plated for optimal corrosion resistance.

LifePump features, such as handle length, required handle torque, and height of the pump above ground are engineered to be ergonomically ideal for women and children.

Under normal operating conditions, users will get about 2.5 gallons per minute at 325 feet.

All of these features have been thoroughly researched and tested to ensure that the LifePump is the most durable, sustainable and appropriate technology for the communities it serves.