Must engage chemical units to tap Oxygen generation: Expert

Must engage chemical units to tap Oxygen generation: Expert

R Venugopal

Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 3

With Delhi hospitals gasping for medical oxygen, India’s leading field expert R Venugopal on Monday said the state must urgently engage chemical industries to explore options for oxygen generation and storage and plan for the future since oxygen would be needed till the number of Covid patients dropped below 100 in every state.

Credited with turning Kerala, a high-Covid burden state from oxygen deficient to oxygen sufficient in a year, Venugopal, Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives at the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), a central body, said he began fast tracking medical oxygen production and distribution in the state in March 2020 when Europe was still reeling from the crisis.

As PESO’s nodal officer for medical oxygen in Kerala and Lakshwadeep, Venugopal oversaw a multifold augmentation of oxygen for Covid patients in the state.

“Between May 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021, Liquid Medical Oxygen supply in Kerala has risen from 34 metric ton to 121 MT (four times); oxygen supply through cylinders from 22 MT to 68.42 MT (over three times) and daily medical oxygen production from 189 MT to 219.77 (16 pc),” he told The Tribune in an interview on Monday.

Asked how this was achieved he said an advisory was sent on March 23, 2020, to all oxygen filling stations, air separation unit (ASU) plants and manufacturing plants in Kerala to run facilities 24X7.

“We held stakeholder meetings and three regular weekly reviews and found that 50 per cent of the ASU plants were not working to full capacity. This was ensured. Hospital supply chains were improved in discussion with oxygen filling plants. The main problem of power interruptions at ASU plants was fixed. Gaseous oxygen supply through cylinders was achieved and hospitals were hand held to rectify oxygen storage pipelines and plug leakages,” Venugopal explained.

‘Every state must plan for future’

R Venugopal, who turned Kerala from an oxygen deficient to an oxygen sufficient state in a year, says every state must plan for the future as O2 will be needed till the number of patients drops below 100 in each state.

PESO in Kerala stopped nitrogen production at the local INOX India’s facility way back last year and augmented oxygen production of 149 MT a day to 159 MT a day.

In a move, which all states could still replicate, Venugopal said he held meetings with chemical industries of the region -- BPCL Kochi Refinery, Kerala Minerals and Metals, Travancore Cochin Chemicals, Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore to explore more avenues of production of LMO and gaseous medical oxygen and got BPCL refinery to tap gaseous oxygen.

“The challenge was non-availability of medical oxygen compressors, which we asked BPCL to import,” he says.

 Kerala also limited the production of industrial oxygen diverting it to medical oxygen last year and suspended it altogether recently amid Covid surge.

Asked what Delhi and other states struggling with oxygen must do, the expert said gaseous oxygen production must be increased in ASU and fertiliser units.

“This gaseous oxygen can be filled in cylinders and sent to all hospitals. States should cease all industrial oxygen cylinders, inert gas cylinders and convert them to medical oxygen cylinders as per the SOP PESO has provided,” he said.

Asked whose responsibility it was to ensure smooth oxygen availability, the expert said the Kerala model had shown how the Centre (through PESO) and the state through Kerala Medical Service Corporation could work together in an atmosphere of meritocracy to ensure a system that works.

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