Thursday, April 17, 2008

Water Technology: The Playpump

Children ride around on a Playpump in South Africa that provides water to their school! (photo: project H Design)

Technology Name: PLAYPUMP

In a nutshell, the Playpump is quite simply a pump. It uses energy from a merry-go-round to pump groundwater into an overhead water tank.

Playpump is the brainchild of Trevor Field, a former marketing/advertising exec. He says he saw children playing around one day in South Africa and wondered if he could harness that energy to pump water. Now children are encouraged to play so that they can bring water into the school!

The playpump really works that simply. Rotational movement from the merry-go-round(1) goes to pump clean water(2) from the ground into an overhead tank(4). Water from the tank then operates on gravity and is collected by tap in some convenient locations(6). The traditional ubiquitous tubewell (see photo) also operates on the same mechanism, only it uses an up-and-down motion rather than a circular motion. (photo source: Playpumps International)

Playpump won the World Bank Development Marketplace (DM) prize in 2000, and has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Trevor registered his organization as Playpumps International. You can visit their website here.

Here's how it works:

And here is National Geographic's recent piece on it:

My review:

I came across Playpumps International (PI) in 2005, when I got very involved with the Development Marketplace (DM) challenge. At that point I was consulting with some of the finalists to help make improve their business plans for the competition. I was struck by the simplicity and large impact that PI could potentially have. Essentially I was hooked.

The good:
Well, what's not to like about this?? Its a clean, simple concept that addresses a desperate need, and it really works.

I also love PI's total sustainable business concept. All parts are manufactured locally. They hire and train local help, and they generate revenues from advertising on their water tanks. They go a step further as well, in that all their advertising must include HIV/AIDS prevention messages or other such health-related messages. That's a really sustainable

The what:
To be honest, I don't know if there is a "what" for this project. I can't quite see a flaw in the technology. I've heard complaints from some organizations that the concept isn't working as well as PI advertises, but how true that is or why that is, I'm not sure. I'm hoping some reader can shed light on this.

I'll be honest though, I'm not crazy about their merry-go-round design. I think that can definitely be done better, and they can probably set up an entire playground while they are at it. But that's a different story.

Variations I would suggest:
Not much. I just think the merry-go-rounds can be better designed. But more importantly:

1. How about getting solar panels on there and making some energy for electricity (and also using the kids leftover energy for the same!) in the school...

Other reviews/information:
World Bank DM Press: Playpump
PBS Frontline/World's story on Playpumps International

Case Foundation's Writeup on PI

1 comment:

Douglys said...

I came up with this, well, the catchy content, not the playpump itself, although what a wonderful and brilliantly simple idea! With all the stupid shit going down in the world, a lot of it caused by human greed, it's important to focus on the positive things we are so capable of...

New World Headlines:
Kids Play. Village Gets Water.
The Playpump.
Because it's not all about money anymore.