The LifePump is a new and innovative hand pump that solves the reliability and depth challenges of standard hand pumps. It is engineered to last years vs. months which improves sustainability by reducing O&M costs. It also reaches 100 meters, which is 2X the depth of standard pumps, and thus significantly reduces the number of dry boreholes which prevents disappointment and unnecessary drilling. The LifePump is ergonomically correct for women and children.


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About This Innovation

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In 2013, Design Outreach started a pilot program for LifePump with World Vision. The first LifePumps have been in continuous operation since 2013 without any maintenance or repair. There are LifePumps in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, and Ethiopia and select units have satellite based monitoring to track usage. WASH researchers at Messiah College are conducting an independent evaluation of the pilot. In December 2015, a Design Outreach team visited with Ministry of Water and other government officials in Malawi in order to have LifePump accepted as a standard option. Responses included "you're very convincing" and there is much interest by many WASH organizations. Current efforts entail scaling up production as well as demonstrating a successful self-sustaining distribution and supply chain model in Malawi. 

How does your innovation work?

The LifePump is a new innovative hand pump solution that provides safe and reliable water in a sustainable cost effective manner. It is based on a Progressive Cavity Pump (PCP) design in order to meet the requirements of high reliability and depth capacity of 100 meters. The PCP operates when a metal rotor turns inside of an elastomer stator, and this generates pressure to move fluids. This technology is commonly used in industrial applications, and the LifePump PCP was specially engineered for the LifePump. Users turn the handles in a rotary motion and this engages the drive rod to turn the rotor inside of the stator at the bottom of the well, and water is driven to the surface inside of riser pipes. Its efficiency is engineered in order to reach 100 meters, have a minimum flow rate of nine liters per minute, and be ergonomically correct for women and children. The LifePump has an estimated life expectancy of more than 30 years, requiring minor maintenance only once every five years. LifePump’s field reliability is due to both its engineering design and the superior quality of its durable components. Furthermore, LifePump is engineered to prevent catastrophic failures that leave villages suddenly without water. Common piston style pumps often exhibit a sudden failure when an O-ring or another component fails without warning. The key components of LifePump wear slowly over time, allowing field maintenance to be performed to restore performance to 100% and avoid catastrophic failure altogether. The LifePump operates at twice the depth of Afridev or India Mark II standard hand pumps. Correspondingly, it is able to eliminate the disappointment and cost implications of dry boreholes, due to its ability to reach deeper aquifers. Additionally, the ability to bring water up from deeper aquifers reduces the occurrence of dry boreholes during the dry season. 


What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?

Evidence shows that community members are satisfied and are prospering because of the LifePump. NGOs are also very interested and asking to purchase the LifePump. After just months of having a reliable source of safe water, many communities are growing gardens, building homes from bricks, and sending their kids to school. Such successes are in part due to removing the uncertainty of a safe and reliable water supply and ability to think about and invest in the future. The longest running LifePumps were installed in November 2013 in Malawi and still show the same performance as when installed. There are many cases of women entrepreneurs who are able to start successful businesses and not be burdened with up to 12 hours a day spent gathering unsafe water. Such stories are common for the communities in which the LifePumps are being installed. The deepest LifePump is installed in Kenya at over 100 meters, just beyond the maximum recommended depth. Reportedly fewer boreholes are deemed dry because the LifePump can reach over 2X deeper than the Afridev and India Mark II. Ministry of Water officials have said that "you're very convincing" when shown the evidence. 

Do you have current users or testers?

The LifePump is being field and laboratory tested using US standards for excellence. This is conducted by Design Outreach personnel as well as WASH experts at Messiah College. In the field, the first LifePumps were installed in November 2013 and have been monitored by measuring efficiency and inspecting components. Eighteen other pumps have been installed in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, and Ethiopia and are being monitored. Positive results are being reported from each location. Design Outreach, Messiah College, Ministry of Water and World Vision personnel have visited sites in each country. Interviews with community members, ethnographic surveys, and measurements have been recorded. Select LifePumps are equipped with a satellite based remote sensor measuring flow rate and the presence of water. In the laboratory, there are four on-going accelerated life testing laboratory test stand pumps equipped with sensors that monitor flow rate, efficiency, and torque. The pumps are cycled on and off according to pumping practices found in the field. Furthermore, the water cycled through is temperature controlled to simulate ground water temperature in sub Saharan Africa. 

What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?

Design Outreach will scale with private public partnerships by starting with NGOs as the early adopters and then governments as late adopters (2-10 years). Design Outreach anticipates initially a majority of organizations will use LifePump for only deep wells (51-100 m), but then adopt LifePump for shallow wells (up to 50 m) as they embrace the reliability advantage. An estimated 60,000 handpumps are installed each year by NGOs and governments and Design Outreach estimates that based on dry borehole data from Malawi, that conservatively 7,000 deep well hand pumps are needed each year worldwide. Design Outreach can achieve self-sufficiency with only 1% or 300 pumps per year in sales. With the guidance of NGO partners, relationships with critical countries have been established to start the LifePump program. Effective relationships exist in Haiti, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Central African Republic and Mali. In key countries a base of distributors and service technicians is being developed to provide in-country presence and accelerated growth. Supporting initial growth is Malawi, where Design Outreach is talking with the Ministry of Water to obtain necessary governmental approvals and develop in-country distribution through a proposed LifePump Franchising Model that piggybacks on existing supply chains. Future offices with local partners in other countries are anticipated to follow with new customers vetted, in part, by the International Trade Administration. Continued collection of lab (via instrumented life-test stands) and field data (confirmed by satellite based remote monitoring) will help drive continued adoption and market penetration of the LifePump. Greater scale is expected as WASH organizations and governments adopt LifePump as an accepted standard. Scaling will be accelerated through supply chain development, visits to NGOs, African Water Ministries and Embassies. Design Outreach has gained interest from many potential customers including NGOs, government officials (in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Central African Republic), and private companies. Design Outreach will continue presenting research data at WASH conferences and in relevant publications to further boost interest in, and acceptance of, the technology.

Next Steps

The LifePump will be sustained and scaled by developing and promoting a self-sustaining supply chain involving end users, government officials, NGOs, and Franchisees. For instance, Franchising Model activities are aligned within the government policies, protocols and plans which will allow the project to evolve over time even when Design Outreach phases out. LifePump will be initially available to preferred implementers and in LifePump zones (where a Franchisee is established) to accelerate adoption. The LifePump business plan follows a stepped approach to sustainably achieve greater scale with forecasted annual sales and positive cash flow by 2018. Early adopters of LifePumps are NGOs in countries that Design Outreach has established excellent relationships with. Late adopters are the governments where Design Outreach has demonstrated successful pilot programs. Government acceptance will continue being pursued at the national, regional, and district levels of government. Design Outreach plans to ensure affordable spare parts are available to pump technicians that are hired by the local communities. Initially preferred implementers will continue acting as the in-country distributors, and then purchase parts from LifePump Franchisee distributors or directly from Design Outreach. O&M training will be conducted in the field by Design Outreach trained Franchisees. The integration of satellite based remote monitors with Franchisees preventative maintenance programs is expected to decrease operational costs and increase profitability. Increasing production and organizational capacity are expected to lower LifePump costs. Candid conversations with current and prospective customers indicate that such price points fit within budget constraints. Sales will be focused on NGOs with most interest in Africa and Haiti, and African governments (starting in Malawi, then Zambia, and into the other pilot countries due to strong in-country partners). An office in Lilongwe, Malawi to establish Franchisees is expected to open in 2016 to support supply chain and attract new customers. This Franchising Model is expected to continue into other countries with a new office starting every 2 years. Also envisioned is a post sustainability and social/health impact study at 5, 10, 15, and 20 years after project inception.