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Indian Institute Pilots Technology to Convert Nitrogen Plant into Oxygen Generator

The Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay (IIT-Bombay) has begun piloting a new technology to convert a nitrogen plant into an oxygen generator amid the country’s oxygen crisis due to the COVID-19 virus.

In a statement by the Institute, Professor Milind Atrey, who specialises in cryogenic engineering, took up the pilot project with Tata Consulting Engineers (TCE) to evaluate the conversion of a pressure swing adsorption (PSA) nitrogen unit to a PSA oxygen unit.

This is done by fine-tuning the existing nitrogen plant setup and changing the molecular sieves from carbon to zeolite. The release said that such nitrogen plants, which take air from the atmosphere as raw material, are available across India in various industrial plants. They have the potential of being converted to an oxygen generator to tide over the present oxygen-shortage emergency.

At IIT-Bombay, a PSA nitrogen plant in the Refrigeration and Cryogenics Laboratory was identified for conversion to validate the proof of concept. A memorandum of understating (MoU) was signed between IIT-Bombay, Tata Consulting Engineers, and Spantech Engineers to finalise an SOP that may be leveraged across the country.

The setup for the experiment was developed within three days, and the initial tests have shown promising results, the Institute claimed. Oxygen production could be achieved at 3.5 atm pressure with a purity level of 93-96%. This gaseous oxygen can be utilised for COVID-related needs across existing hospitals and upcoming COVID-specific facilities by providing a continuous supply of oxygen, it added.

Under the partnership, Spantech Engineers, who deal with PSA nitrogen and oxygen plant production, installed the required plant components as a skid at IIT-Bombay for evaluation using IIT-Bombay’s infrastructure at the IITB Nitrogen facility.

Amit Sharma, Managing Director, Tata Consulting Engineers, said, “We are delighted to partner with IIT-Bombay and Spantech Engineers, and contribute toward an innovative solution for emergency oxygen generation using existing infrastructure towards helping the country tide over the current crisis. Such partnerships between industry and academia can accelerate our vision towards the AtmaNirbhar Bharat [self-reliant India scheme].”

Subhasis Chaudhuri, the Director of IIT Bombay, has requested various government authorities, non-governmental organisations, and private companies to contact Atrey and Tata Consulting Engineers to enable the rapid adoption of the technology.

In another attempt to mitigate the present emergency, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) announced it would set up 500 medical oxygen plants in the country under the Prime Minister CARES fund programme.

According to a news report, DRDO said the medical oxygen plant (MOP) technology was developed to supply oxygen onboard the light combat aircraft (LCA) by the Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL). DEBEL is a unit under the DRDO. The MOP is designed for a capacity of 1,000 litres per minute (LPM). The system can cater to 190 patients at a flow rate of 5 LPM and charge 195 cylinders per day.

The technology can generate oxygen with around 93% concentration, which can be directly supplied to hospital beds or used to fill medical oxygen cylinders. It utilises the PSA technique and molecular sieve (zeolite) technology to generate oxygen directly from atmospheric air.

The Department has transferred this technology to Tata Advanced Systems Limited, Bengaluru, and Trident Pneumatics Pvt. Ltd, Coimbatore, which will produce 380 plants for installation in hospitals across India. Another 120 plants of a 500 LPM capacity will be produced by industries working with the Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun, that works under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

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