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Published on October 3rd, 2013 | by Cynthia Shahan


Irrigating Fields With Sunshine, The Sunflower Pump Is An Insipired Low-Cost Alternative To Diesel Pumps

October 3rd, 2013 by  

Originally published on Ecopreneurist.

Sunflowers, sunbeams, and dry fields. The sun is shining and the fields need watering, what’s a farmer to do? Use his tired old back pumping water? Worse yet, use that smelly diesel fuel or petrol to pump some water? No, there is an alternative! Use the sunshine to pump the water. It just goes hand in hand — sunshine and watering are two parts of the same work day. When the fields need watering, there is plenty of sunshine. Renewable energy is ever-present.

Futurepump, the Sunflower’s creator, explains: “The Sunflower is the result of over twenty years R&D to develop an affordable way of doing this.”

Cheaper, no smell, no hard labor, this solar-powered pump is rather simple after all.

http://www.futurepump.com/Image Credit: Futurepump, The Sunflower

The Sunflower uses a solar collector that generates steam to drive a simple engine pump. It can lift 12,000 litres/day from a 7.5m well (more at shallower depths) which can irrigate around 1/2 acre. It is so cost-effective — with No fuel costs, (and no noxious smell) — that the initial investment of around $400 can be recouped in 1-2 years compared to the ongoing running costs of diesel or petrol engines.

Futurepump built this baby to last. It is designed with the intent of low maintenance, a kind consideration. It has no electronics. As Sunflower’s creators suggest,  if you understand how a bicycle operates, you will be able to understand this.

It comes as a kit. We farmers love the do-it-yourself kit, don’t we? The only thing we love more is those lady bugs and bees. It is easily serviced with spare parts always available at low cost. There are three main parts to the Sunflower:

  1. the collector, which is a reflective dish that captures and focuses sunlight to produce steam;
  2. a meticulously designed engine that converts pressurized steam into mechanical movement;
  3. the pump, a reciprocal piston pump that draws water out of the well.

In the video above, Nick, Futurepump’s field director, introduces the Sunflower Mark 2 in action in a test compound in Bolgatanga, Ghana in June 2013.

Futurepump writes:

“The design is built around principles of appropriate technology — in other words it is low-cost, simple to operate and easy to maintain and repair locally.”

The solar collector concentrates sunlight onto the water-filled boiler, producing steam which is piped to the engine. A cam attached to the flywheel shaft opens an inlet valve. Steam enters the cylinder and the pressure pushes the diaphragm piston forward activating the water pump and rotating the flywheel. The inlet valve closes, the exhaust valve opens and as the pressure drops and the flywheel inertia pushes the piston to the top of the cylinder and the cycle repeats. More details on the design here.

The new design is simpler with more standardized parts. The flow capacity has also been improved with a potential daily output of over 10,000 litres from 10m water depth. The Ghana field testing is being conducted by iDE.

Perhaps you want to become a distributor. Futurepump is just blossoming, so opportunities are readily available for growth.
Future pumps site is interested in distribution partners and dealers in East Africa, especially Kenya and Ethiopia. And it says it can offer attractive trade prices to the right partners.


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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

  • Diego Matter

    What would be needed to pump water from a depth of 80 meters? Is that doable with the sun?

    • Bob_Wallace

      It can be done. Grundfos sells a pump that can pump from as deep as 820 feet/250 meters. And it can be run direct from solar panels or a wind turbine as well as the usual grid/battery-inverter ways.

      1350 watts. Less than $1,000 worth of panels.

  • Amber Pump & Water

    Enjoy your article very much it’s great learn something new every

  • Wayne Williamson

    Cool…just wondering where the condenser is located. Does it use air or the pumped water…
    Kind of reminds me of the windmills I used to see out west that filled tanks for the cattle to drink from.

  • mk1313

    Love to see the steam engine design.

  • JamesWimberley

    What usually goes wrong with such iniatiatives is that they are First World solutions to Third World problems. I´d feel happier if this was launched by Grameen. Still, Futurepump have obviously made an effort to KISS – there´s no apparent automatic tracking mechanism, presumably this will be done by a small boy out of the picture. The other big plus is that the cost is low enough not to depend on charity, just the market, perhaps with a helping hand from microfinance.

  • jburt56

    Plus it provides a form of energy storage–each liter of water raised 1 meter and stored in a tank stores 9.8 joules.

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