Experts from IIT – Bombay have come up with a novel solution to the country’s oxygen shortage caused by the COVID-19 Corona virus. In collaboration with Tata Consulting Engineers (TCE) , the institute has come up with a device as part of a pilot project that can convert a standard nitrogen generator into a functioning oxygen generator.

This solution could appeal to a large section of the Indian Healthcare System given that it only takes three to four days to convert existing nitrogen plants. By comparison, setting up a new oxygen plant from scratch can take at least 45 days.

The conversion is done by replacing the molecular filters , people involved in the project said. Moreover , Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) Nitrogen plants are available in several industries across India, making the idea more feasible. Another crucial factor here is that conversation of an existing nitrogen plant will only cost around 10 to 15 percent of the amount required to construct an oxygen plant.

Although IIT – Bombay has validated a proof of concept it is yet to be scaled up to accommodate the large potential demand. Professor at the Institute , Milind Atrey explained the process saying, “If the molecular carbon sieves (filters) in these plants are replaced with zeolite (another mineral) and the settings are modified a bit, we can do the reverse. Instead of rejecting oxygen from the atmosphere , this conversion process will help in its production.”

Oil refineries, food industries and a handful of other sectors make use of nitrogen plants. Atrey added that bringing the resources of all these plants under one regulatory body and purchasing zeolite from other sources will be instrumental in the mass production of oxygen.

Spantech Engineers which specializes in PSA nitrogen and oxygen plants , is also involved in this project. The company helped in installing the parts of the plant at IIT – Bombay’s refrigeration and cryogenics laboratory . TCE , IIT and Spantech have signed an MoU recently to scale up the technology for mass production.

As per the tests conducted at the site, oxygen production was achieved at 3.5 atmospheric pressure with a purity level of 3-6 percent . This is deemed suitable for use in COVID-19 hospitals.

Managing Director at TCE , Amit Sharma said , ” The center has directed setting up over 500 PSA oxygen plants. But , till then, this approach of conversion may be used under emergency needs. Post conversion of an existing nitrogen plant, the oxygen produced is approximately one third of the capacity of the original nitrogen plant output”.

Sharma was also wary of the hurdles they could face with the procurement of zeolite. “Procuring zeolite could be a challenge . But both the private and government entities have been procuring such zeolite material for the new oxygen plants and for industrial use and hence the same material could be used for this conversion”, he said.

After an existing plant has been converted into an oxygen generation facility, it will require requisite approvals from the Central Pollution Control Board as well as the local administration. Such plants will also need to be tested for quality and safety.