The story of 2020 is, in one word, coronavirus. In fact, so widespread, rapid and devastating has the Covid-19 pandemic been, it threatens to expunge 2020 from the history books on so many levels.

Sporting events cancelled; tournaments void; economies ravaged and whole industries collapsed; society socially distanced; and ultimately, far too many lives lost, too soon. These are just a very powerful handful of examples of the destruction that this strain of coronavirus has wreaked on our lives.

At the time of writing, the hard-to-detect virus continues to engulf the world at different stages, with three million confirmed cases globally and almost 210,000 fatalities.

Something that will be remembered from 2020 and learned from, is the response – in some cases very rapid – to the spread of the virus and the treatment of patients. At the heart of this has been the industrial and medical gases business, meeting the need for the crucial supply of medical oxygen via bulk or cylinder supply for hospitals, field hospitals and first responders.

This week we’ve heard from one of the few medical cylinder manufacturers operating in Europe during this crisis, so what better than now talk to one of the forerunners in onsite oxygen generation systems?

Novair was among the very first companies to introduce the oxygen generator as a source of medical oxygen supply to hospitals in Europe in 1994. It is also one of the few companies in the world to manufacture high pressure oxygen boosters which can fill oxygen cylinders up to 200 bar with oxygen produced by generators, and claims to be the manufacturer offering the most extended range of oxygen generators for hospital use to the market.

These are impressive credentials at any time, but particularly so during such a crisis. Understandably, the company is ‘fully busy’ right now in its response to the situation, as Founder and President Bernard Zenou explains in an exclusive interview with gasworld.

Novair Exclusive-03

Source: gasworld / Novair

“With the present Covid-19 crisis situation, we are fully busy with the organisation of our production to be in position to answer in the best possible way to the extraordinary demand of oxygen generator systems,” he says.

That production includes not just the oxygen generators that the company blazed a trail with since 1994, but also those oxygen boosters and other devices related to medical gas piping systems. Zenou explains, “Ever since [1994], Novair succeeded in improving sharply the PSA (pressure swing adsorption) process in terms of flow, oxygen purity, and stability of performances. Today, Novair is the manufacturer who offers to the market the most extended range of oxygen generators specifically dedicated for hospital use.”

“In addition, Novair manufactures all other devices related to the medical gas piping system: medical air plants, centralised vacuum stations, medical gas distribution and monitoring devices.”

Hot topic: Opening the door to onsite oxygen generation

Despite being founded in France in 1977, the product range of Novair today – primarily manufactured for healthcare facilities – means the company has arguably never had a more important role to play than during these times of global Covid-19 pandemic.

“Indeed, availability of oxygen is a crucial factor in the fight for the survival of people affected by Covid-19. As an oxygen generator and oxygen booster manufacturer, we do have a very important role to play,” Zenou affirms.

“We are seeing that oxygen supply is becoming a matter of general concern. In developed countries, despite the large existing capacities, the system for delivering liquid oxygen and bottles has reached its limits. We are informed that there is a lack of medical oxygen in some places, and we are requested to supply oxygen generators to hospitals to support the existing oxygen source.”

“Novair has also been approached by major health organisations and NGOs such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), to provide a solution to a tremendous number of cases in the LMICs (Low and Middle Income Countries) where an oxygen concentrator is often the only solution to provide oxygen,” he adds.

“In developed countries, oxygen concentrators also have a role to play as a valid solution to provide oxygen to any healthcare facility without any restriction. Our goal in the present situation is to organise our production processes to supply turnkey skid-mounted oxygen plants within a 10-day lead time.”

These are also production processes that have themselves been challenged by the pandemic. “We had to handle unavailable supplier issues, transportation difficulties, and had to implement teleworking for a large part of our teams,” says Zenou. “But we got over those difficulties thanks to the strong commitment of all our teams.”

Novair Exclusive-04

Source: gasworld / Novair

Increasing capacities and capabilities

Prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, examples of a typical Novair customer would be a new hospital or clients in search of a one-stop-partner for medical gas systems.

“There are new hospital builders looking for the smartest way to respond to the oxygen needs, thus highly attracted by the autonomy, cost-effectiveness, safety and security of our oxygen generators,” Zenou explains.

“In addition, an increasing motivation towards our solutions is the environmental aspect: due to the elimination of all deliveries and transportation by trucks, oxygen generators contribute to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.”

“Also, with a range of solutions including medical gas production, distribution and monitoring systems, as well as piping network design, Novair responds to the needs of clients in search for a reliable one-stop-partner for medical gas systems, from source to patient, which is exactly what we are.”

With plenty of such needs to be met, as well as other healthcare sector demand, Novair has experienced ‘sustained and continuous’ growth from many years, Zenou says. Its plan for 2020 prior to Covid-19 was to further this growth by significantly increasing the capacity of production at its French site in Roissy en France and its Italian site in Grosseto.

“In particular, Noxerior – the Novair daughter company – is going to move into a new and significantly larger facility, giving here the possibility to multiply its production capacity to over 500 oxygen and nitrogen generators per year,” Zenou adds.

The company has also been working to improve its technology offering, with Zenou reflecting on its ‘advanced technology’ in the field.

“Novair was the first company to introduce the double-stage oxygen concentrator (DS-PSA) in operation in a significant number of hospitals. It is recognised today that Novair has an advanced technology in that field. Indeed, the Novair DS-PSA is capable of producing oxygen at a very high purity: oxygen content of 99.5% with close to 0 ppmv (parts-per-million by volume) contaminants (CO and CO2).”

“Furthermore, the most significant performance of the Novair DS-PSA Premium plus range is its exceptional stability of concentration. Indeed, currently accuracy is around +/- 0.2% which is under the limit of accuracy of a paramagnetic oxygen analyser.”

Novair Exclusive-02

Source: gasworld / Novair

Oxygen 98 monograph

The final part of our discussion focuses on the future for Novair and onsite oxygen generation, and it is clear that these technologies will be in greater demand even after the height of the coronavirus pandemic has long since passed.

That’s if a significant development in the European healthcare sector this month is anything to go by. The European Directorate for the Quality of Medicine and Healthcare (EDQM) revealed on 16th April that it is launching an extraordinary public consultation on how best to include oxygen at 98% purity obtained via two-stage concentrators in European Pharmacopoeia (Ph. Eur.), as reported by gasworld.

New oxygen 98 monograph to be considered

European Pharmacopoeia currently includes two monographs on oxygen, firstly Oxygen (0417) and secondly, Oxygen (93%) or Oxygen 93 (2455). Oxygen (0417) was drafted over 50 years ago and covers oxygen produced by cryogenic distillation, with an oxygen content specification of a minimum 99.5%. Oxygen 93 (2455) was first published in Europe in 2010 and covers oxygen produced by a concentrator that removes the nitrogen from ambient air using a PSA.

At the time of the latter’s publication, the plants available on the market utilised a single-stage adsorption process which did not remove any argon from the air being processed. As Zenou has already explained, however, advances have since been made in the design of PSA oxygen concentrators and companies like Novair are now producing double-stage PSA plants capable of producing oxygen with a nominal content of 98%.

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Source: gasworld / Novair

This has now prompted the decision to elaborate a new monograph, Oxygen (98%) (3098), especially as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for oxygen worldwide (by as much as a factor of 10).

“This new Monograph, when published, will provide to healthcare facilities a framework for the production of oxygen in-situ with almost equivalent quality to oxygen produced by cryo-distillation,” Zenou affirms. As we conclude our interview, he cites this development as the biggest opportunity for Novair in the next five years.

“The new MDR (Medical Device Regulation) replacing the current Medical Device Directive (93/42/EEC) is a big challenge and opportunity for NOVAIR.”

“Oxygen produced in-situ by PSA or DS-PSA process are becoming mature and fully reliable solutions. They must definitely have an increasing place in the industrial landscape and in the health sector of today and tomorrow.”