For my mechanical engineering capstone class, 2.760 – Global Engineering, my team worked with a corporate sponsor to demonstrate a better drip irrigation system. Our sponsor was SunCulture, a Kenya-based company, which sells solar powered drip irrigation kits to smallholder farmers in countries across Africa. SunCulture’s kit is solar powered, so farmers don’t face fluctuating fuel prices for gas powered pumps or fickle electricity grids. SunCulture also aims to make the system affordable, so an increasing number of farmers can grow better crops and increase their income.
SunCulture’s existing design used a positive displacement pump to store water in a tank which provided the flow and pressure to distribute water across the field through drip tape. They wanted to remove the water tank because it was expensive and large, putting the kit’s price out of reach for a number of smallholder farmers and made delivery harder for the company. The tank had been necessary because the positive displacement pump, albeit efficient, couldn’t provide enough flow and pressure to an entire field when directly connected to the drip tape.
We demonstrated a proof-of-concept for an improved system which uses a control system to pair low-energy pressure compensating emitters with a positive displacement pump. This design allows SunCulture to remove the tank from their system to lower cost and improve performance. Further details can be found in the paper which was presented at the ASME 2019 International Design Engineering Technical Conference.