October 24, 2021

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Learnings from the 2nd wave of COVID: PSA plants could be the answer to battle Supply and Purity challenges in Medical Oxygen

  • The author of this article is Mark Mathew, COO, NF Healthcare India

Even as we come to terms with the aftermath of the COVID 19 pandemic and continue to face the uncertainty of a third wave, the tragedy and the lessons of the 2nd wave that hit a peak in Apr-May 2021, are fresh in our minds. Among all the other things, a scarcity of oxygen was the key point that could have helped prevent a lot of COVID related fatalities. According to government officials, the demand for medical oxygen in the country peaked to nearly 9,000 MT in the second COVID wave as compared to the maximum requirement of 3,095 MT during the first wave. During these waves, a lot of medical oxygen during the pandemic was created by converting industrial oxygen to medical standards to meet the increasing demand. Hence the issues of purity, transport and consistent availability remained a challenge. To tackle this, hospitals and medical centres dealing with COVID patients, who traditionally used Oxygen Cylinders through contractual arrangements with suppliers, are now being urged by the state governments to set up PSA (Pressure Swing Adsorption) Oxygen Plants in wake of future crisis.

PSA is a technology which separates oxygen from compressed air provided as an input to the system and filters out waste gases (mainly Nitrogen) to the atmosphere through an exhaust. The resulting oxygen is in highly concentrated form with purity levels up to 93% and high pressure sufficient of up to 6 bars to run all life-saving equipment like Ventilators & BiPAP machines. This also ensures a continuous 24 hours oxygen supply. PSA Oxygen plants can supply Medical Oxygen from as low as 8LPM (Litres per minute) upto 1000 LPM (Litres per minute) and can hence cater to the requirements of individuals to Large Hospitals

Let us understand the benefits of setting up a PSA Oxygen generator Vs Sourcing Medical Oxygen Cylinders from suppliers, and how purity and consistency are the key differentiators:

  • Safer: PSA systems eliminate transportation risks and help maintain peak hour consumption
  • Purity: With a guarantee of 93%+ 3% purity, the PSA technology helps achieve excellent grade of medical oxygen, that is generated at the venue, eliminating any chances of contamination. However, one cannot assure purity of oxygen in cylinder, being supplied from unorganized suppliers.
  • Volume losses/ wastage: It is a known fact that in Oxygen cylinders, there is volume loss of 10% during change over due to pressure differences. There is no such volume loss with PSA systems, ensuring optimal use of all oxygen that is generated
  • Manpower issues: Medical oxygen cylinders demand continuous manpower to monitor and change cylinder banks in rotating shifts. PSA systems are automated and do not require constant handling.
  • Economical: Although the initial investment of PSA oxygen plants may seem to be high, in the long run, it is economical such that even a small hospital will be able to recover their costs within 1 year of continuous usage
  • Agile: PSA Oxygen systems allow an array of customisations that can help hospitals or users to modify operational output based on changing demand.
  • Compact: Most of the PSA Oxygen systems need minimal space to install and don’t need any structural changes or rearrangement of the layout, in a space where they are set up.

However, there are a few things that medical institutes need to keep in mind before purchasing a PSA Oxygen Plant. For instance, Currently, there are lot of local players who basically work as assemblers of PSA Oxygen plants. They get most of their spare parts from different countries like China, USA or Europe and are able to make a complete PSA Oxygen Plant in India. These assemblers will ensure that the product is supplied and installed at a hospital or medical institute. However, their service capability is always a question mark. Hence, it is always good to look for original manufacturers rather than assemblers.

Medical institutions should also look at the internal compressors used in these plants. They should look at only those manufacturers which use Oil less compressors in their plants, which ensures that there is no possibility of Oil Vapours in Oxygen produced. This also results in min noise level which ensures that there is least disturbance to the staff and patients.

Other factor hospitals should consider is electricity consumption of these medical oxygen plants. There are a few PSA oxygen plants which consume low power and work on single phase supply of 220V. This not only helps in cost savings in long run, but also helps in better ROI.

In conclusion, Hospitals and COVID Care centres need to now be better prepared to ensure we do not face the same problem of shortage of oxygen, as we did in early 2021.