Hydraulic Ram Pump Systems: A Capstone Project Review

Shane Andrews

With coal being phased out by governments due to pollution and diesel being used less in comparison to natural gas or oil, it is time to investigate the alternatives for water pumps. Diesel fuel powered pumps are popular and reliable for several simple water pumping projects; however, diesel fuel is known to be high in carbon content, hence, emitting high amounts of carbon pollution. For comparison, the company named Sustainable Environmental Engineering Development Association (SEEDA) are diving into the technology of hydraulic ram pump systems. Hydraulic ram pump systems are capable of pumping fluids (usually water) up high elevations without the input of any power or electrical source. Therefore, since these pumps rely strictly on hydraulics, fluid mechanics, and pressure differentials, these pumps simply require a difference in elevation drops between two locations. In the fall semester of 2018, SEEDA submitted a student capstone project proposal to the University of Calgary for engineering students to have a chance at designing one of these hydraulic ram pump systems with the objective of determining the viability of this system with a previously built diesel fuel powered pump.

The original scope of the project was to design a hydraulic ram pump system in an area along the Athabasca River. The purpose of the hydraulic ram pump was to replace the diesel fuel powered pumps that are used by nearby farmers and households for pumping their water. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks as mentioned with hydraulic ram pumps is that they require differences in elevation to produce a “fluid head”. The fluid head is the pressure which is measured by the height to which the fluid that is being pumped can be raised by the pressure. A complication quickly arose when the students involved in the project realized during the site location step that the majority of the locations along the Athabasca River are in areas with minimal height differences. Therefore, in calculating flow parameters and pump rates, the hydraulic ram pump would have failed unless extra construction was completed to add elevation drops. The project was unfortunately at a halt due to the complication.

After consultation between the students and the mentors of SEEDA, a new plan and project scope were sought out. The students were requested to design a Hydraulic Ram Pump Site Locator Manual. This manual was intended to allow any user to determine the flow parameters, ram pump sizing and scaling, and location viability for a hydraulic ram pump system. Whilst keeping the design aspect of the hydraulic ram pump system, the students now had a project that could be made into a product that would prove useful to groups, not only the residents along the Athabasca River, but in communities where obtaining water is difficult.

When asked, this is what one of the students, Shane Andrews, had to say about working on the project: “I enjoyed my time working on the project. As with all projects, there are many obstacles and ultimately, setbacks that result in having to move backwards to make corrections. SEEDA was helpful in mentoring us and teaching us about the hydraulic ram pump systems and I believe that the new manual has more use to them rather than the original project they proposed to us. I think the concept of the manual will be beneficial to its users and I am curious to see how users will use it, whether it be for agriculture or for access to drinking water.”

Working closely with SEEDA was interesting for me as I had never heard of the company before the hydraulic ram pump project. Seeing all the other interesting sustainable projects and services that SEEDA has to offer builds a foundation of hope in defining sustainable development, as well as paving a path for a new greener future.