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Solar-Powered Pump Could Help World's Poor

JUAN PASCOE is a retired United Nations development specialist who not only has found a solution to water problems of the world's poor rural areas, but has helped put together a Tucson corporation to make a lot of money in the process. Mr. Pascoe's black eyes blaze with excitement when he talks about a new pump that will push water out of the ground at the rate of two gallons a minute, using a one-fifth horsepower motor that derives its energy from four solar panels. ``It's a godsend,'' he says.

Pascoe is the president of a Tucson company that will manufacture and market the new pump.

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The pump is the invention of a senior genius who lives in Crossroads, N.M. Arthur Perry Bentley is the grandson of the man who created the car bearing his name. Mr. Bentley's pump uses a motor that would barely drive a sewing machine. But its work is very limited. All it needs to do is send sonic waves down the well pipe to a valved pumping unit at the well's bottom. The unit picks up the waves and drives its piston up and down. This gushes a whole column of water up the pipe.

None of this takes much energy, Pascoe points out. Only enough to make some noise down a pipe.

Bentley also has invented a second type of pump, one that slides an electric charge down a black well pipe. The entire pipe becomes like a capacitor of a discharge system on an electronic ignition. It employs its valve system to push the column of water or oil to the surface.

Pascoe discovered Bentley in the mountains near Ruidoso, N.M., where he was living a quiet existence, despite the 34 patents in his name. With Allyn Spence, an anthropologist with the Office of Arid Land Studies at the University of Arizona, Pascoe put together a company called Appropriate Technology Development Inc.

Not long after forming the company, Pascoe and Mr. Spence took a prototype pump to the Navajo reservation.

``We put it in an abandoned well, connected it to four solar panels, and it started to bring up water,'' says Pascoe.

``The Navajos came around. The women especially were enchanted. They said, `The sun is bringing out the water from the ground? Impossible.'''

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For Pascoe, the experience on the Navajo reservation was confirmation of his hope that the pump might have worldwide uses.

``Knowing what I know about the needs of the developing world - rural people without water or with very little water - I know one of the reasons they cannot use traditional pumping gear is because they don't have electricity or it is too expensive. Now here is a pump that the deeper you go the more efficient it is. You can go 4,000 feet and bring water up with a little motor which draws practically no electricity.''

The Bentley pumps are also much less expensive to purchase and maintain other water-pumping technologies. The smaller pumps will replace $20,000 windmills on the Navajo reservation at an initial per pump cost of $7,000.

The impact of such savings could be profound. The United States Department of Agriculture has concluded that the biggest expense for farmers who experienced serious drought in the last two years is the cost of pumping water. That cost has driven more farmers into bankruptcy than any other single factor.

Appropriate Technology Development will work with China to have a joint-venture manufacturing operation in Shanghai. And it also will start making pumps in Tucson sometime soon.

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