AguaClara's Ram Pump for Zero Electricity Drinking Water Treatment

EPA Grant Number: SU839463
Title: AguaClara's Ram Pump for Zero Electricity Drinking Water Treatment
Investigators: Weber-Shirk, Dr. Monroe , Nathans-Kelly, Dr.Traci M
Current Investigators: Weber-Shirk, Dr. Monroe , Nathans-Kelly, Dr.Traci M , Hunter, Payton , Ju, Alyssa , Pang, Ching , McCann, Maile , Storch, Alycia , Tsang, Cheer
Institution: Cornell University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: December 1, 2018 through November 30, 2019
Project Amount: $14,999
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2018) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Challenge Area - Chemical Safety , P3 Challenge Area - Air Quality , P3 Awards , P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources


AguaClara is a multidisciplinary program at Cornell University that researches and installs sustainable water treatment solutions committed to long-term environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Since 2005 the AguaClara program has been steadily improving water treatment technology performance with a specific focus on increasing the accessibility of safe drinking water to those who cannot afford the traditional water treatment plant. With the themes of economic accessibility and environmental sustainability in mind, AguaClara water treatment plants are designed to be completely electricity free. The plants use smart fluids to eliminate the need for mechanical controls and by eliminating most moving parts the AguaClara plants have far fewer failure modes than conventional mechanical plants. AguaClara produce cleaner water with lower capital and operating costs than conventional plants in Honduras and thus there is an effort underway to bring AguaClara technologies to the United States.

The proposed work is to design and fabricate a novel inline (vertical pipeline with zero waste) ram pump, which uses potential energy to lift a small amount of water to an even higher elevation. While a standard ram pump wastes the extracted water used for energy gain, the AguaClara ram pump returns that water to a distribution tank. Conventional ram pumps that discharge wasted water to the environment have been researched extensively, but there is no research on AguaClara's vertical flow, waste-free ram pump (ACVRP). Our research goal is to find a way to make this design more efficient, as such an inline ram pump is essential to making AguaClara water treatment plants electricity-free. AguaClara plants need to lift treated water to the top of the plant to prepare coagulant and chlorine stock solutions.


Evaluation of AguaClara's prototype vertical ram pump design suggests that significant design modifications may be needed to obtain efficient pumping action. Thus, the goal of our proposed Phase I research is to understand how to redesign the vertical ram pump so that it can be tuned or calibrated for optimal performance. After field testing and any required iterative improvements the ram pump and its design will be published as part of the new, open-source, AguaClara Infrastructure Design Engine, allowing our innovations and analysis of the ram pump to be accessible worldwide.

The proposed research will be conducted by undergraduate students in Cornell University's AguaClara program as part of our well-established RIDE innovation system. Student teams collaborate with partner organizations to Research, Invent, and Design improved water treatment technologies and then to Engage with implementation partners to build the pump and assist communities with installation, maintenance, and operation of community-based water treatment systems.

Expected Results:

Understanding how the hydraulic ram pump works and improving the performance of it can hold great implications for further use of the pump. Using an electricity-free pump that doesn't waste any water could mean that more facilities would be able to benefit from the AguaClara approach. For AguaClara, improved efficiency will mean a decrease in the time spent using the pump. This could mean a longer useful life and a decrease in maintenance costs for the plants.

Contribution to Pollution Prevention or Control: An electricity-free hydraulic pump would allow the water treatment plants to continue to operate entirely off grid without requiring plant operators to carry treated water up to the chemical stock tank platform. Several of the AguaClara plants including Las Vegas (12,000 people) and Marcala (9,000 people), Honduras don't have any connections to the electrical grid.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

sustainable; green engineering; gravity; physics; economical; potable; zero waste; reuse

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • P3 Phase II:

    AguaClara’s Ram Pump for Zero Electricity Drinking Water Treatment