How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 683

How does a gravity powered water pump work? — JA, Hiawassee, GA
I believe that the pump you're interested in is one that uses the energy released when water flows downhill to lift a small fraction of that water upward. While there are many possible designs for such a pump, the classic version used a phenomenon called "water hammer" to lift water upward. In this technique, a column of water is allowed to accelerate downhill through a pipe until it's flowing at a good speed through the pipe. The pump then closes a valve at the lower end of the pipe, so that the water has to stop abruptly. Since water accelerates in response to imbalances in pressure, the stopping process involves an enormous pressure surge at the lower end of the moving water column. A one-way valve at the lower end of the pipe opens during this pressure surge and allows a small fraction of the water to escape from the pipe. The escaping water rises upward through a second pipe for delivery to a home or business. According to a reader, the escaping water actually enters a head tank that is normally filled with air and thus compresses that air. The compressed air is then used to push water through the pump's outlet and provide the pumping action. This pumping scheme is apparently called a "hydraulic ram."

The only trick to operating such a pump is opening and closing the valve at the lower end of the first pipe. This valve must open long enough that the water in the pipe reaches a good speed and then it must close very suddenly to provide the pressure surge that lifts the small amount of water upward for delivery.


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