With the aim to help hospitals fight the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the rural areas, a team of scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, has developed a low-cost and portable version of an oxygen generator – a device that can draw oxygen from the surrounding air and supply it to ventilators or directly to the patient.
“There are oxygen generators available in the market, but each unit costs anywhere from Rs 40,000 to Rs 1 Lakh. I realised that by using readily available materials, we can make it at a fraction of the cost,” Prof. Praveen Ramamurthy, one of the team members, tells The Better India (TBI). Their device costs less than Rs 10,000.
The Need for the Device and How it Works
Prof. Ramamurthy, Dr Arun Rao, and Bhaskar K are material scientists who work on sensors and electronic applications. When COVID-19 became a global threat, it was soon obvious to the team that there will be a dearth of oxygen supply in the coming months, especially in villages and other remote areas. Generation of oxygen at the point of care, where cylinders and other centrally distributed systems are unavailable, would become critical.
Thus, these scientists brainstormed ideas for applications that would be helpful in the pandemic. In a week, his team had put together a prototype that generates oxygen from the atmosphere.
The device works on a simple yet powerful principle.
Air consists of mostly nitrogen. To be precise, it is a mixture of 78 per cent nitrogen, 21 per cent oxygen and small amounts of other gases. The device sucks in the surrounding air and passes it through a layer of zeolite. Zeolite is a widely available and low-cost volcanic mineral.
“It acts as a sponge for nitrogen,” Prof. Ramamurthy tells TBI. “The zeolite layer adsorbs the nitrogen from the air mixture and outputs mostly oxygen.”
After developing the prototype, Prof. Ramamurthy and his team focused on making it portable. For this, they used commercially-available water filter cartridges as the canister in the device. The latest version of the device is 15 cm long with an output of 70 per cent oxygen. They are working on bringing it to above 90 per cent oxygen supply, before launching it on the market. Prof Ramamurthy estimates they can achieve this in a week.
“Besides using readily available materials, we brought down the cost further by building the electronics on Arduino boards,” says Prof. Ramamurthy. Arduino is an open-source hardware and software kit for building microcontrollers.
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One of the best features of the device is its transparency. The medical staff can monitor the amount of oxygen generated, as well as control the percentage of oxygen supplied to the patient. For instance, if the doctor decides that the patient needs air with 60 per cent oxygen, he can easily set that on the oxygen generator.
Prof Ramamurthy intends to make the blueprint of the design open and available to anyone who wants to build similar oxygen concentrators.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)