Technologies available for transfer to manufacturers
Oxygen concentrators are going to be in big, big demand, even if and after the Covid-19 pandemic goes away. Good news is, the supply chain is setting itself up; and there are offers of technology transfer for making the products.
Oxygen concentrators can be made in medium and small industries.
An oxygen concentrator is really an absurdly simple device. It comprises essentially a compressor and two canisters or cylinders that contain a metal-coated zeolite. Zeolites are naturally occurring minerals. They are chemically called alumna silicates—a material that contains micropores. These are molecular sieves that can filter out large molecules and let only small molecules to pass through.
The oxygen concentrator makes use of this property of zeolites. When compressed air is passed through one of the cylinders, the zeolite adsorbs the nitrogen and allows only oxygen to pass through it. Air is 78 per cent nitrogen and 21 per cent oxygen, and 1 per cent all other gases. So, if you take out the nitrogen, what you get is oxygen-rich air—the oxygen concentration is upwards of 93 per cent, good enough for patients. In use, the only input is electricity, which is needed to run the compressor.
It is not difficult to make the product. Only, the pneumatic valves need fine-tuning to suit the temperature and pressures. The valves need to be adjusted to the type of zeolite used. Zeolites are coated with metals – lithium is the best, but sodium, magnesium and calcium also do the job. Metal coating enhances the efficiency of nitrogen adsorption.
So, do want to get into the manufacture of this product? It might be a good idea, because all the hospitals are going to need it.
It all required a trigger. Earlier, the demand was so low that it did not justify local production of this product—so the small demand was met by imports. But now that the Covid-19 pandemic has created a bumper demand, all hospitals will want this, as a backup, or as a substitute for cylinder oxygen. Also, hospitals in far flung areas will find oxygen concentrators worthwhile keeping, rather than spend on transporting oxygen cylinders.
But the real demand will come from households. You see, oxygen concentrators are likely to become household appliances, like water purifiers. All households that have aged or aging people would like to have a concentrator tucked away in a corner, for just-in-case use. Of course, this will happen only when prices come down—but that will happen too. Today, imported machines cost between Rs 80,000 – Rs 1,00,000. But ONGC has tendered for 1 lakh concentrators for Rs 47,000 for 5-liter concentrators and Rs 58,000 for 10-liter concentrators (including the flow meters). Prices will further come down when scale picks up.
And then, there is a good demand for low-cost concentrators from other countries too.
So, this is a pretty good time for a MSME to get into this business. If you have land and basic infrastructure, you can assume that it would cost about Rs 10-15 crore to get started.
Coming to technology transfer, there are quite a few options. Scientists at IISER, Bhopal have developed the technology for the product, and are willing to offer it for a fee. Likewise, a Pune-based start-up, ChemDist, has begun manufacturing concentrators and is willing to partner with other companies for distributed manufacture. The contacts of these two companies are given below. In addition, you might approach BEL, the public sector company.
With the government encouraging companies to get into medical appliances – concentrators, ventilators, masks etc., India is sitting on a huge potential to pip China and make a mark for itself in the global market.
For IISER, Bhopal, contact Dr Mitradeep Bhattacharjee. I readily don’t have his phone number, but if you contact Akhil Vaidya of Footprint Global Public Relations, at 9882102818, he will take it forward.
For ChemDist, contact Dr Sunil Dhole at 9559213333.