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Why the Humble Pump Could Change the World

Pumps are pretty humble things. For the most part, their fundamental design has gone unchanged for a long time and they’re certainly not the ‘sexiest’ of technologies.

Whilst my colleagues might work with robots at the bleeding edge of technology, ‘smart’ factories and even super yachts, my area is ‘just’ pumps. That being said, pumps are everywhere and are involved in just about every aspect of our lives. Depending on the statistics you look at, they’re said to consume up to 10% of total global electricity.

The yachts and robots aren’t showing off now, are they?

Still, as I said, pumps are modest. They tend to be simplistic and durable too, which means that approximately 90% of the cost of a pump through its lifetime comes from the amount of energy it consumes.

As the fundamental design of the pump has changed so little in the last few decades, it’s probably unlikely that a business will bring out a completely brand new, revolutionary design that will take the market by storm. So, if companies aren’t necessarily tinkering too much with the original design, they’re instead working on small efficiency improvements to try and bring those life cycle costs down.

More Efficiency = Huge Impact 

When taking the figures into account about how much energy pumps consume, increasing efficiency suddenly has big implications. It’s been suggested that a significant increase in the efficiency of pumps could reduce total global electricity usage by 4%. That’s effectively wiping the energy consumption of a large country off the map.

The benefits of this are two-fold. Firstly, for the pump-owner/ manager, they’ll see a significant dip in costs. If the last figures I quoted are correct, this could lead to a 40% saving on energy costs which, in several energy intensive industries, is a stratospheric saving.

Next is the environmental impact. With agreements like the Paris Accord in place, companies and governments are constantly looking to cut back on their emissions and energy usage. It could be the humble pump that’s the knight in shining armour to save the day.

It’s obviously easier said than done – there are, after all, many different types of pump, but the premise remains the same: small tweaks in efficiency can have huge impact.

Who's Doing it? 

Grundfos are addressing the issue with their new range of super efficient, intelligent pumps. They’re optimising motor speeds to meet actual demand, whereas standard pumps are running at fixed speeds (i.e. 0 or 100).

Another efficiency-improving innovation being used by companies like CP Pumps is seal-less magnetic drive pumps, as opposed to those with mechanical seals. They’re safer, more efficient and can lead to significant savings over the life cycle of a pump due to the reduction in mechanical parts.

The Japanese pump company, Torishima, have even been awarded the Energy Conservation Prize by the Japanese Government for their efforts to increase product efficiency with their ‘Eco-Pump’. Torishima are focussing on the three factors in pump efficiency: Hydraulics, Impeller and Motor. Optimising flow by curving the impeller, reducing power requirement by trimming the impeller and using premium IE3 motors. Torishima have been spurred on by the astounding revelation that 28% of Japan’s power is consumed by pumps.

Other big players like Xylem and KSB are also addressing this issue. This article from Waterworld highlights, among other things, the need for all three fundamental features of a pump: the hydraulics, motors and controls, to be engineered to the very highest level and be able to work seamlessly together. Tiny tweaks make a big impression.

The International Electrotechnical Commission are the body that regulate the efficiency of motors, and therefore pumps. In 2014 the current highest-level of efficiency regulation was introduced (IE4 for super premium efficiency motors), but many of the companies I’ve mentioned here claim to have already manufactured IE5 compatible pumps.

This means that the best and brightest in the industry are innovating faster than the regulators can regulate – a rare occurrence in the industrial world. It remains to be seen whether pump companies can make a significant impact on our global energy usage, but it’s certainly an exciting time to be involved in this sector.

It turns our that no-one should underestimate the effect the humble pump can have.

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