IIT Bombay attempts to solve oxygen crisis; demonstrates conversion of nitrogen plant to oxygen generator

In order to tackle the current oxygen crisis faced by people due to surge in the Covid-19 cases, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay) has attempted to create gaseous oxygen and facilitate a continuous supply of oxygen that can be utilised for Covid related needs across existing hospitals and upcoming specific facilities.

Professor Milind Atrey, Dean (R&D), who also specialises in cryogenic Engineering along with Tata Consulting Engineers Limited (TCE), took up a pilot project to evaluate the conversion of PSA (Pressure Swing Adsorption) Nitrogen Unit to PSA oxygen unit by fine-tuning the existing Nitrogen Plant setup and changing the molecular sieves from Carbon to Zeolite.

Such Nitrogen plants, which take air from the atmosphere as raw material, are available across India in various industrial plants. Therefore, each of them has the potential of being converted to an oxygen generator to tide over the current emergency.

At IIT Bombay, a PSA Nitrogen plant in the Refrigeration and Cryogenics Laboratory was identified for conversion to validate the proof of concept. To undertake this study on an urgent basis, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between IIT Bombay, Tata Consulting Engineers and Spantech Engineers to finalise a SOP that may be leveraged across the country.

Spantech Engineers, Mumbai, who deal with PSA Nitrogen and Oxygen plant production, agreed to partner with IIT Bombay and TCE on this pilot project and installed the required plant components as a skid at IIT Bombay for evaluation using IIT Bombay’s infrastructure at the IIT Bombay Nitrogen facility at the Refrigeration and Cryogenics lab.

This setup for the experiment was developed within three days, and the initial tests have shown promising results. Oxygen production could be achieved at 3.5 atm pressure with a purity level of 93-96 per cent. This gaseous oxygen can be utilised for COVID-related needs across existing hospitals and upcoming COVID-specific facilities by providing a continuous supply of oxygen.

Subhasis Chaudhuri, Director of IIT Bombay, said that such a partnership between academia and industry is highly desirable and essential for the growth and success of our nation. He also encouraged the teams to conceptualise innovative ideas and generate indigenous IP that can be leveraged across multiple sectors in meeting the country’s needs.
Chaudhuri has encouraged and requested various government authorities, NGOs, and private companies to contact Prof. Milind Atrey, IIT Bombay, and Tata Consulting Engineers to know more about this project and its rapid adoption across the country.

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