Apart from its industrial usage, oxygen is used for various medical purposes – from general medicine administration to medical assistance and emergency procedures. Oxygen is a critical element for human life existence, and The timely availability of medical oxygen is a decider of life and death for the patient.
Medical Oxygen is a life-saving essential medicine as it is a critical ingredient in treating certain critical health conditions such as pneumonia, malaria, sepsis, and meningitis. Pneumonia alone accounts for 800 000 deaths per year. It is estimated that 20–40% of these deaths could be prevented with the availability of oxygen therapy.
Its importance once grew more during the COVID-19 pandemic because of its close association with the respiratory system. High-flow nasal oxygen is found to be a safe and efficient treatment for COVID-19 patients who are not in an ICU. The WHO says that 15 percent of COVID-19 patients require medical oxygen because of breathing difficulties. COVID-19 clearly exposed a major weakness in the health systems – that of medical oxygen production and delivery. Some critically ill patients even require a ventilator. However, the available number of ventilators is too low. This forced medical equipment manufacturers to quickly go into production mode.
Hospitals procure medical oxygen through cylinders that fill it at industrial gas plants. The cylinders are installed in the hospital basement or at proximity and piped to the patient’s bed. The patients are charged based on consumption. Typically, a $40–$60 would be charged for a severe pneumonia child who spends 3–4 days and consumers 4,000 to 8,000 cubic liters of oxygen. The challenge for medical and health administration is to increase the supply of medical oxygen while reducing cost so that it is accessible where it is needed most, free at the point of use.
Cryogenic Distillation Plants that use liquid oxygen can get above 99.5 percent pure oxygen, while the oxygen generation plant uses air, compresses it, and purifies it to extract 93 percent oxygen.
Specific barriers to oxygen systems include cost, human resources, technical training, and continuous and reliable power supply. WHO Innovation / SDG3 Global Action Plan (GAP) initiative has found one solution to creating more reliable power supplies through solar energy. Solar-powered oxygen concentrators were recently installed in a regional children’s hospital in Galmudug state, Somalia.
NASA’s breakthrough tech could help meet global oxygen demand, reported in April 2022
A new type of oxygen generation system developed by US independent space agency NASA could be set to help meet the surge in global oxygen demand triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the primary intention is to use the technology to recharge oxygen tanks in astronaut spacesuits, NASA recognises the possibility for it to benefit hospitals that lack reliable access to oxygen.
Featuring a ceramic ion transport membrane, the solid-state device aims to generate high purity oxygen at high pressure. Built with no moving parts, the initial prototype currently operates at a small scale (30-40 slpm – standard litre per minute, 5-10 bar) and was developed primarily to recharge oxygen tanks for astronaut’s spacesuits.
The Medical-Ceramic Oxygen Generator or M-COG, NASA’s new type of oxygen generation system, is based on a tried and tested method that has been used in engineering labs for years. At the heart of the M-COG is thin rock of a hot, solid material. “We use cerium oxide, but if you get the right kind of solid material and you put it in a high temperature environment, you put it in a hot oven and you put a simple DC potential across, hook it up like a battery circuit in an elementary school science fair project,” Dr John C. Graf, Technology Development Lead for Life Support at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, explained. The electrical potential drives oxygen ions found in the air on one side of the ceramic rock and pumps oxygen ions to the other side where they’re collected.
The new M-COG technology uses wafers. About the size and shape of a cell phone and half as thick, these wafers are organised in a way that allows a series of them be stacked. Graf explained, “We have lots of surface area in a small area and we gap the distance between each of the wafers so that it’s very easy to blow air across all of those surfaces without fans working very hard.”
Small ceramic washers are place around little holes in the wafer, before oxygen is delivered into a small porous layer in the inside of the wafer and then migrates to that central port. If the wafers are lined up and then lined with a ring, the pipe that comes out at the top acts like a chimney. “These cell stacks deliver oxygen out of that pipe again with no moving parts, which we think will be sustainable and reliable and long lasting.” NASA is building and designing around a cell stack consisting of 30 wafers with dimensions of six inches by six inches by three inches in size.
In addition to build the prototype system that delivers 34 litres a minute at 100 psi, Graf revealed that NASA is also designing and prototyping a two-stage device that can produce oxygen capable of filling high pressure cylinders.
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