On June 25, the WHO estimated that the world would need a supply of 620,000 cubic meters of oxygen per day (about 88,000 high pressure cylinders) to treat the rate of new COVID-19 cases. Countries worldwide are overwhelmed by consistently rising cases, particularly new hotspot countries like Brazil, Mexico, and India.
Unlike helium, the world will never run out of oxygen. However, 80 percent of the oxygen market is owned by a few private companies, which challenges supply and demand during these tumultuous times. As medical grade oxygen is considered a pharmaceutical drug, it has additional specific requirements and certifications it must pass to be approved by the FDA.
In respiratory therapies, including the treatment of COVID, medical grade oxygen restores tissues, preventing possible lung damage. Hospitals typically utilize two types of medical oxygen applications: liquid bulk tanks and high-pressure gas cylinders. Bulk tanks are on-site structures, with levels monitored by a sophisticated telemetry system that sends alerts to a supplier when a refill is needed. This system allows drivers to be dispatched before the supply dips below a safe level.
Typically, medical oxygen from bulk tanks is fed through an internal pipeline that delivers oxygen to patient and operating rooms. Due to the pandemic, many hospitals have adopted this system due to increased usage and urgency, installing pipelines of their own.
During the pandemic, it is likely that hospitals will have supplementary compressed gas cylinders on hand. Cylinders and portable oxygen concentrators have been vital for pop-up hospitals, particularly in poor countries. For COVID patients who come in with low blood oxygen levels, these supplies and medical oxygen applications can mean life or death. Not all high-risk patients in severe conditions may require a ventilator, but they will require additional medical oxygen to support their recovery in some capacity. Suppliers are urging that empty cylinders are returned as soon as possible for refills to maintain a streamlined process of supply and demand.
There are two main ways that high purity oxygen can be produced for medical use: at Air Separation Units and through oxygen concentrators.
Air Separation Units separate ambient air into its individual components: nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and other rare gases. Through five stages of filtration and distillation, each gas is processed and separated for individual distribution. Fifteen percent of oxygen produced in Air Separation Units is used for medical applications, and through this cryogenic process, it is filtered to a purity of greater than 99 percent. Technically, oxygen of this purity level is ready for most applications, including for applications within the medical industry used for COVID treatments.
An alternative to mass production at Air Separation Units, oxygen concentrators are devices that concentrate oxygen by capturing air and removing nitrogen and other gases. Concentrators then supply a gas stream of oxygen from a compact machine the size of a suitcase. Ideal for home use, pop-up hospitals, and backups to cylinders, concentrators are portable and play an important role in allowing patients to be safely transported if necessary.
The WHO reported a worldwide shortage of oxygen concentrators, which are vital to supplementing the supply of oxygen produced in Air Separation Units. Last month, they announced they planned on purchasing 14,000 oxygen concentrators in the coming months to send to more than 120 countries to combat COVID.
Rocky Mountain Air sells oxygen at a variety of purity levels for a variety of systems and partners with PurityPlus for high purity gas certification and testing. Medical grade oxygen is guaranteed to be void of any potentially harmful contaminants.
As with distributors all over the world, the medical industry has become a top priority of service in 2020. If a serious shortage ever were to occur, RMA would remain loyal to its customers, providing flawless dependability by getting hospitals and clinics the medical grade oxygen they need in a timely manner.
Contact your local RMA branch in any one of our five states today to discuss your medical oxygen needs with a representative or one of our cryogenic experts. We look forward to partnering with you and prioritizing the needs of the healthcare industry.