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Coming, DIY oxygen kits, using off-the-shelf materials

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on April 26, 2021

Pradeep's research student Srikrishnarka Pillalamarri demonstrating the prototype oxygen generator

Researchers at IIT Madras have fabricated a DIY kit that can generate oxygen sufficient for a patient in home care.

As the acute shortage of medical oxygen leaves hospitals across the country gasping, scientists at several laboratories are trying to put together a kit that can help deliver the live-saving gas for critical patients at home or hospitals.

Researchers led by T Pradeep, Professor of Chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, for instance, have fabricated a crude prototype of a do-it-yourself oxygen kit that can be used to generate oxygen sufficient for a patient in home care. The kit uses materials that can be bought off the shelf.

DIY kit

“Producing oxygen through electrolysis is part of high school science. There are plenty of videos available on YouTube that explain how to do this. Only thing is that this has to be done using readily available materials and at a cost that is not very high,” said Pradeep.

Using a 25-litre plastic container, copper wires, a steady supply of DC power (like car battery or a DC welding system), half a dozen stainless steel nuts and bolts that act as electrodes (or a stainless steel mesh), a football bladder to collect the oxygen and tubes to carry the gas to the patient and a mask, Pradeep’s team actually demonstrated that it can work. They used commonly-available drain cleaner, which is nothing but sodium hydroxide, for making water electrolysis ready. “Such oxygen supply can be regulated using the same kind of regulators used for regulating IV fluids,” Pradeep said.

However, care needs to be taken to properly dispose off hydrogen, which is highly inflammable. This can be done by keeping the tube carrying hydrogen outside the window at a height well above the room level. Pradeep, who is planning to post a video of the prototype, said the idea is to tell people that such oxygen generators can be made by a person with a basic understanding of science.

CECRI’s electrolyser

At the Karaikudi-based Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI), a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research laboratory, researchers are designing an electrolyser system that can produce 250 litres of oxygen and 500 litres of hydrogen per hour. While oxygen can be delivered to critically-ill patients, hydrogen can be used for making hydrogen peroxide, which is a disinfectant used in hospitals. “Such systems, expected to cost around ₹3 lakh, can be very useful for hospitals,” CECRI director Nallathamby Kalaiselvi told BusinessLine. She said such systems can work for months without interruption with only the membrane requiring replacement. Kalaselvi also plans to encourage the institute’s researchers to design and develop membranes that are cheaper and efficient.

She said that a big firm, which has interest in medical products, approached the institute seeking its help in designing such medical oxygen systems.

Simultaneously, IIT Bombay has called for inputs from its professors for designing oxygen generation systems. “We have called for applications for developing systems in one month,” said Milind Atrey, Dean of Research at IIT Bombay.

Published on April 25, 2021

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