A Human Powered Water Pump you Have to See

I’ve done quite a bit of writing about how to harvest and manage rainwater recently.

However, in the wake of Sandy, it’s time to start thinking about what to do with an excessive amount of water (e.g. unwanted water flooding your basement), particularly during an emergency that knocks out power and fuel deliveries.

To find an elegant potential human powered solution, I asked Devin, the water harvesting guru for Resilient Strategies.

He sent me a link to a step action water pump that simply said:

“Performance specs are eye-popping for a human powered pump, I’ve not seen anything close.   Price is ~$500. Not bad.”

Intrigued, I took a look.

Here’s the pump.  It’s from Ecologics, a small company in New Zealand.

It’s a real work of art from a performance perspective.

It’s built to last:  Zinc coated steel.  Self-lubricating bearings.  Durability tested with diaphragm life proven in excess of 5,000,000 liters and the pump mechanicals in excess of 9,000,000 steps.

And amazing performance specs.  One operator can move 5-6,000 liters an hour and it has a max lift of 20 meters.

Also, due to mechanical assist, it can also be operated by people with low body weight.

Simply, it looks amazing and if it performs at anything close to its specs, it should be a staple in every fire department and town hall.



Moving lots of water this easily using step action got me thinking:  How would you use a pump like this?

One domestic way to use it would be to pump a tank of water at ground level to a raised tank to give it some positive pressure (for a sprinkler or indoor plumbing).

Another, and this was featured on the Ecologics site, is small scale mining (?).  Here’s the unit and the mining accessory folded into a backpack.

Any other ideas?

Resiliently Yours,



PS:  Do you think human powered systems like this ever fit into a resilient home or are they oddities?



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  • AJ

    That’s what kids are for!! 😉

  • http://www.flyover-press.com Dr Jimmy T LaBaume

    I’m really not sure of what I am doing but I would like to ask a question and would appreciate anyone who can and wants to answer to emil me at the indicated address.

    With reference to the human powered wate pump. Does it have adequate flow to pump heave septic tank sewage?

    Thanks for your time.


  • http://www.resilientdesign.org/ Alex Wilson


    Great looking product. Thanks for the post. You might also be interested in the two deep-well hand pumps I wrote about recently: Bison Pumps and Simple Pumps. These pumps fit onto a standard well casing (replacing the sanitary cap) and can push water up from a static head as deep as 200 feet (Bison Pump) or 350 feet (Simple Pump). Because the piping extending down into the well retains water, you get flow after just two or three strokes, and priming isn’t required. Enough water drains from the top to provide freeze protection. I’m installing one on our well so that we can have clean, potable water when we lose power. Here’s my blog on them: http://www.resilientdesign.org/hand-pumps-an-option-for-back-up-water-pumping/. -Alex Wilson

  • http://sunenergyapps.com Greg Bell

    As usual with appropriate/alternative tech, the numbers don’t really work out well.

    To do what is stated – move 6000 liters up 20 meters, would require 1.176 MJ of energy. A reasonably fit human can output 75 W continuously, which means they’d have to work 4.36 hours to move that water – not 1 hour as stated. That’d be a long 4.36 hours :)

    I’m a big fan of these sorts of inventive solutions but am always disappointed when I look at the reality the numbers tell us.

    • John Robb

      Greg, To be precise, that’s 6,000 max flow AND 20 meters max lift, not the combination of the two at the same time. Sorry if my writing was less than clear on that. JR

  • Inne ten Have

    Dear John,

    I like reading your blog a lot. I don’t know if you already know or like the Low-Tech Magazine by Kris De Decker ( http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/ ).

    A quote from their site:

    Low-tech Magazine refuses to assume that every problem has a high-tech solution. A simple, sensible, but nevertheless controversial message; high-tech has become the idol of our society.

    Instead, Low-tech Magazine talks about the potential of past and often forgotten knowledge and technologies when it comes to designing a sustainable society. Sometimes, these low-tech solutions could be copied without any changes. More often, interesting possibilities arise when you combine old technology with new knowledge and new materials, or when you apply old concepts and traditional knowledge to modern technology. We also keep an eye on what is happening in the developing world, where resource constraints often lead to inventive, low-tech solutions.

    Underlying the common view of a high-tech sustainable society is the belief that we don’t have to change our affluent lifestyle. This is not a realistic view, but it sells. However, changing our lifestyle does not mean that we have to go back to the middle ages and give up all modern comforts. A downsized, sustainable industrial civilization is very well possible – and more fun, too!

  • Paul Priems

    That is so cool! Can see myself using one on my water tanks when the power goes off. I reckon you could even use it for fire fighting in emergency. Good on ya Kiwis.

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