The Human Water Pump Harvests Kinetic Energy

by , 10/20/08

human pump, gunwook nam, kinetic energy water pump, water efficiency, sustainable design, sustainable architecture, re:construct competition winner, re:vision

Gunwook Nam’s Human Pump is a clever solution to the world’s water crisis that captures kinetic energy generated from human foot traffic and uses it to power a system of pumps that bring fresh drinking water to the surface in a playful, dramatic and life-saving waterfall. One of three winners in the Re:construct competition sponsored by San Fransisco’s Urban Re:Vision, the project is a brilliant example of socially responsible design targeted towards communities without easy access to water.

human pump, gunwook nam, kinetic energy water pump, water efficiency, sustainable design, sustainable architecture, re:construct competition winner, re:vision

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 4,500 children die every day due to a lack of clean water. In sub-Saharan Africa UNESCO reports that it’s women and girls who bear the brunt of the water crisis as they cannot go to school or earn extra income because they must travel up to six miles every day just to get enough water for their families to survive.

Nam’s Human Pump is essentially a 12-meter-wide boardwalk designed to be placed in areas of heavy foot traffic, such as the main route to a school or market. Though the details are few, presumably kinetic energy from walking and playing would be absorbed throughout the day and stored, either mechanically or electrically. At some point later in the day the structure would have enough stored energy to pump water to the surface and trigger the transformation from boardwalk to waterfall/play area.

It’s an elegant application of kinetic energy harvesting as seen here on Inhabitat in everything from mobile phone chargers and dance floors, to cameras and lamps. Detractors may cite the projected figures: “1 step -> pumping -> 1 liter water”, and “50 visitors/day = 5000 steps = 50000 liters water”, not to mention the fact that in Nam’s drawings, precious, life-saving water seems to be spilling into the desert unimpeded. However, similar kinetic energy prototypes such as MIT’s Crowd Farm demonstrate that the technology is certainly feasible.

As part of the Urban Re:Vision series of competitions, the ‘Human Pump’ project will be a part of the collaboration between Re:Vision and the city of Dallas to construct an entire city block in a completely sustainable way. According to Suzanne Hackett, “Re:construct, is the fifth of six competitions to collect and generate ideas around building with sustainable and reusable materials, and in more innovative and meaningful ways.” We’re looking forward to hearing more in the upcoming months.

+ The Human Pump

+ Re:construct

+ Urban Re:Vision

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  1. budweiser_072000 August 6, 2011 at 9:15 am

    thats a cool concept idea but i cant imagine it getting made any time soon which is a shame, for more info on kinetic energy try here – kinetic energy

  2. zackaders May 27, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    how does it work? It is highly unlikely the suggested Piezokinetic technology (MIT) would handle the energy load required… not to mention the multimillion dollar price tag.

    Agreed, very bad look for that jury

  3. janice January 14, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    what a great invention…….i hope you will post the whole document of the invention…

  4. hughmama October 29, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Going to have to agree with gregb on this one. What is it with competition juries lately?
    After that ridiculous (and ugly) business card read won the supreme red dot award too. It’s a long road back to reputability from there.
    This concept is like a bunch of feel-good western design wank thinking crammed together and given a pretty picture.

  5. gregb October 21, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Well, you simply can’t wish an idea like this into reality. Especially when drinkable water supply isn’t a matter of design aesthetics, but of life and death. There simply isn’t enough power generated by walking across a bridge- period. (The MIT project is at best a concept- it’s not even a working system that could function in a desert with heat, rain, sand and scavengers). And this is also an expensive solution. People are DYING in Africa, and you could install 100 working hand or animal powered pumps for the cost of this folly.

    Its one thing to give prizes to dance floors or train terminals- just more noise in the system. But the jury should be ashamed of themselves for this choice.

  6. Steve N. Lee October 21, 2008 at 2:52 am

    This sounds a cool idea, but I don’t get it.

    If the technology is so ready available and, though I may be reading too much into what’s said above, relatively cost effective, why aren’t we employing such technology in our towns and cities right now? Imagine the enormous costs of lighting everywhere we live – now imagine how many people walk through out cities every single day. Why aren’t we capturing this energy? If it’s so easy, wouldn’t this be a major step towards cutting emissions and developing a sustainable lifestyle?

    Yes, I’ve seen the phone chargers and the dancefloor, but, especially the latter, I’ve always thought they were quite gimmicky and didn’t really believe they could make a valuable contribution to sustainability. But this post implies there are vast untapped resources. Let’s hope it’s right. And let’s hope we get to see the technology spread across our urban landscapes wherever possible.

    Steve N. Lee
    author of eco-blog
    and suspense thriller ‘What if…?’

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