Skyrocketing demands for medical oxygen dominated headlines during the worst of the pandemic. With low and middle income countries (LMICs) seemingly hardest-hit, question marks were raised over the global preparedness – or lack thereof – of the medical gases industry.

Vital for treating the potentially devastating impact that Covid-19 can have on the respiratory system, oxygen is considered by frontline aid agency Medicin sans Frontieres to be ‘the single most important’ medicine for treating Covid-19. With the pandemic threatening global supply chains, the prospect of generating oxygen onsite using air separation units (ASUs) and pressure-swing adsorption (PSA) systems presented an opportunity to revolutionise medical oxygen delivery. 

Taking advantage of this opportunity, oxygen generation specialist Novair has taken steps to maximise its oxygen supply potential. Commenting on the moves being made by Novair was the company’s President Bernard Zenou, who spoke with gasworld during the Medical Gases Virtual Event 2022. 

“From the beginning, oxygen therapy has been the only available therapy to treat patients affected by Covid-19,” he began. 

“Therefore availability of oxygen became crucial.” 

The majority of healthcare facilities in the world have an oxygen supply that is dependent on gas distributors. 

Contained in cylinders or other specific equipment and transported from external oxygen production sites, Zenou stated that this method of supply failed during the pandemic. 

“Oxygen was not available where it was needed once the cases reached their highest level.” 

According to Zenou, this demonstrated the crucial issue of logistics.

Liquid oxygen (LOX) has the highest volume ratio but to transport it requires specific equipment, such as cryogenic trucks and tanks. During the crisis, such equipment was missing and the world was facing a critical shortage of LOX transport-related equipment. 

Production of oxygen on site by generators demonstrated its full usefulness due to the Covid-19 pandemic and has the advantage of providing an autonomous solution.

“Over the past two years thousands of oxygen generators have been installed around the world, increasing the access to oxygen in many areas.” 

Novair has provided equipment and solutions to countries across the world hardest hit by oxygen shortages such as India and Tunisia. 

“The adsorption technology is a new solution. There are several process that use this technology, PSA, and VSA produce oxygen at 93%,” explained Zenou. 

Innovations 

A recommendation has been added regarding the pipe systems that enable hospitals to receive oxygen. Zenou explained that these should be oversized because in many cases the existing piping as too insufficient to feed the volume of oxygen needed by the hospital beds.

In emergency cases, the need to mix several oxygen types produced via several methods may have to be harnessed. “It is not usual but in case of emergency, it would be necessary to do it because it could save lives.” 

“I do not believe that when we mix oxygen 93 and 99 we are doing a mixture of two different substances, the molecule is exactly the same.” 

The transport of LOX in cylinders has also been described as having a negative impact on the environment. 

Onsite oxygen generation reduces the reliance on transport by heavy-duty trucks, which contributes to carbon reduction and lowering carbon footprints. 

Calling for the collaboration between onsite oxygen generation and cryogenically-manufactured oxygen providers, Zenou said, ”Both are complementary, there is a place for the two solutions and it could become a solution for the future.” 

“We are focusing our efforts to have the most reliable product with the best and most efficient services. We have engineering teams in many areas and we are capable of operating and supporting the systems that we install,” he added.

“I think that the future will be with a better product and better benefits for all users.”