Sustainable Irrigation in Rural South Africa: Studying the Alcock Ram Pump System for Optimized Manufacture and Reproducibility

EPA Grant Number: SU835337
Title: Sustainable Irrigation in Rural South Africa: Studying the Alcock Ram Pump System for Optimized Manufacture and Reproducibility
Investigators: Ball, William P.
Current Investigators: Ball, William P. , Goel, Adhiraj , Mullen, Alex , Chakravarti, Dipankar , Tramposch, Elizabeth , Prosser, Emily , Marble, Erickson , Normile, Hayley , Zheng, Jesse , Berger, Jordan , Howland, Michael , Palmquist, Nathan , Desai, Pujan , Bell, Randy , Spellissy, Rebecca
Institution: The Johns Hopkins University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Since 2006, the JHU chapter of Engineers Without Borders (JHU/EWB-USA) South Africa program has been working with South African partners and eight communities in the KwaZulu-Natal province (KZN) to install irrigation systems for community vegetable gardens. These systems are based on a hydraulic ram pump designed by our local South African partner, David Alcock. The pump does not require any external power sources, has only two moving parts, and is constructed entirely from locally available materials.

Currently, our EWB program is focused on ensuring sustainability and enabling technology transfer of the Alcock Ram Pump. The current project focuses on better understanding and documenting (a) how pump efficiency is expected to vary as a function of system variables; and (b) how the pumps can be most efficiently and economically constructed in a systematic and reproducible way, using readily available components.


We plan to carefully document the Alcock pump design and manufacturing process and to then construct and test several “standardized” designs in our own shops, using methods and techniques that can readily replicated by in-country craftsmen. Performance testing will occur in two setting -- a JHU wet laboratory and in a natural stream just west of the JHU campus. Mr. Alcock will provide guidance throughout the effort and will oversee some of the manufacturing effort directly. The team will evaluate an appropriate range of stroke lengths and lead weights and develop carefully standardized and reproducible means of cutting curved rubber diaphragms (obtained from sidewalls of tire) and making other parts. Team-built pumps will be compared against Alcock-built pumps to fully evaluate issues of performance and reproducibility.

Expected Results:

At the conclusion of this project, the team will have developed improved methods for fabricating the Alcock Ram Pump while also standardizing and documenting the efficiency of the pump and the methods for its production and implementation. Outputs will include a clear set of engineering drawings and pump curves to describe performance. Comparisons will be made based on the pump curves of the pumps as function of drive head, waste flow, and pump design. These outputs will be distributed to local in-country partners, who are well equipped to distribute this technology to needy community gardens. These groups can also inspire and train others to create small enterprises of ram-pump manufacture and service.

Supplemental Keywords:

Design for the environment, energy conservation, water-energy, energy recovery, alternative construction material, water conservation, sustainable water management, water transport technology, recycled materials, interactive development tools.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report