Save Water, Save Energy, Save Cost! Sustainable Hydropowered Irrigation From Integrated Turbine Pump 

Official project title:    
EUREKA Eurostars project 113393: SHIFT! - Save Water, Save Energy, Save Cost! Sustainable Hydropowered Irrigation From Integrated Turbine Pump 

Project leader:               
Juan Carlo Intriago Zambrano, PhD Resesarcher 


Juan Carlo is a transdisciplinary PhD candidate from Ecuador. He bears a strong affinity for research focused on the Global South. He is a TU Delft | Global Initiative fellow and ambassador. 

His research focuses on hydro-powered pumps that are capable of creating water pressure while operating solely on hydraulic energy. These low-cost, environmentally sound devices are able to sustain pressurized smallholder irrigation. They may thus become enablers of wellbeing for impoverished farmers. Despite this seemingly clear potential, there is no ultimate perfect recipe for smallholders to uptake hydro-powered pumps effectively. What strategies can help in coping with many adoption barriers of all kinds? Juan Carlo is currently studying how innovative business models can facilitate this process while creating value for involved stakeholders. 


Given the significant number of smallholder farms worldwide (Lowder et al. 2016), intensifying their crop production is key for food security, as well as in creating positive impacts in their livelihoods. Amongst many challenges that smallholders face, proper water management is one of the most critical elements to achieve such objectives (Giordano et al. 2019). A way to improve (or enable) access to and control of irrigation water is by – yet not limited to – the use of pumping technologies to water lands that will remain otherwise (partly) unirrigated throughout the year. 

In this context, the Dutch company aQysta has developed the Barsha pump (BP), the first-ever commercial version of the spiral pumps. BPs, however, face several constraints that affect the decision-making and access of smallholders to this and other agricultural technologies, and thus to their benefits. On this subject, Product Service System (PSS) is a type of business model able to potentially cope with a number of restrictions of different nature. Moreover, if co-created with the feedback of the users, and by addressing contextual tensions of different cases, these models can be substantially richer than their top-down counterparts. In this PhD research project, six cases of the use of BPs have been addressed in Nepal and Malawi. Both primary and secondary data, analyzed qualitatively under the analytic induction approach, were collected through unstructured interviews and Q-methodology. Evidence shows a wide range of (non-)technical facilitating and hampering conditions for the BP, as well as preferences of the smallholders in regard to existing and proposed business model elements. Based on the corresponding analysis, a set of opportunities for an improved BP-based business model - PSS, aiming to fulfil several (and at times opposing) needs, is ultimately proposed in the paper.  


Water pumping systems driven by renewable energies are more environmentally sound and, at times, less expensive alternatives to electric- or diesel-based ones. From these, hydro-powered pumps have further advantages. Nevertheless, these seem to be largely ignored nowadays. More than 800 scientific and non-scientific documents contributed to assemble their fragmented storylines. A total of 30 pressure-based hydro-powered pumping technologies worldwide have been classified and plotted in space and time. Although these do not present identifiable patterns, some noticeable clusters appear in regions such as Europe, South–Southeast Asia, and Eastern Africa, and in timeframes around 1960–1990, respectively. Some technologies have had a global impact and interest from their beginnings until contemporary times, others have been crucial for the development of specific countries, and other ones barely had almost imperceptible lives. All of them, nonetheless, have demonstrated to be a sound alternative to conventional pumping technologies, which can be unaffordable or inaccessible, particularly in remote and off-the-grid areas. Currently, hydro-powered pumping technologies face a regained momentum, hence a potentially promising future. However, researchers, manufacturers, and users need to be aware of the importance that management systems, as well as business models, pose for these technologies beyond their mere performance.