The world has always considered oxygen a human right; But the Corona pandemic revealed that access to it – in its pure form intended for medical use – has become a form of luxury in most low- and middle-income countries.
In his report , published by the Australian website “The Conversation”, David Ferrin Jimenez, an academic and researcher at the Laboratory for Molecular Engineering and Advanced Materials at the University of Cambridge, said that accessing oxygen for medical treatment is a complex, expensive and sometimes risky process, and what is happening in India is good Proof of this, as the second wave of COVID-19 hit the country hard with a death toll of more than 200,000, while the country suffers from a severe shortage of oxygen supply. Read also Burning 5G networks in Britain for fear of Corona… a scientific fact or a conspiracy?Rosetta probe finds oxygen on comet 67PThe discovery of oxygen in a remote galaxy changes our understanding of the beginning of the universe
Due to the current crisis, Indians have turned to the black market to buy oxygen at high prices. This crisis is partly due to the way medical oxygen is manufactured, stored and transported around the world. This prompted scientists to work on finding a less expensive alternative.
Oxygen is often obtained from liquefied air. Engineers convert the air we breathe into a liquid using a set of processes that cool the gases until they condense, and then distill them to separate the elements of the air, including oxygen.
But this process requires huge amounts of energy and huge industrial facilities; Therefore, the factories are distributed over a few countries in the world, most of them are in the North of the globe. Liquid oxygen must also be stored and transported under great pressure; This creates serious logistical problems and safety concerns, as oxygen is a potentially explosive substance.
This means that the main obstacle in the process of oxygen production lies in the containers, in which it is filled. The United States relies on high-pressure tubes to transport pressurized oxygen, while Europe uses large tanks to transport liquid oxygen.
In low-income countries, oxygen is distributed in cylinders that are manufactured only by a few chemical companies, and its safe handling requires many precautions and appropriate training.
Indeed, developing countries lack the infrastructure to produce liquid oxygen and to transport it easily and cheaply to hospitals.
The author pointed to another way to make medical oxygen is to use oxygen generators, which remove nitrogen – the gas that makes up 78% of the atmosphere – using a series of membranes, porous materials and filters, a well-studied technology that began working in the mid-1970s.
These devices increase the oxygen concentration in the air by more than 95%. The advantage of these devices is that they can be produced in a small size to facilitate use in hospitals or nursing homes, and are now commercially available; But they are expensive, and difficult to manufacture in developing countries.
The writer mentioned that his team is studying new types of materials, which store gases and separate their parts without exorbitant cost, and their studies include the development of two main types of porous materials, which are zeolite (crystals of silicon, aluminum and oxygen) and organic metal frameworks.
These porous materials store a large amount of fluid just like a sponge. Although the pores within zeolite and MOF may appear small; However, its total surface area is huge. The standard area of one gram of MOF is more than 7,000 square meters, and the two materials have been previously exploited for gas storage, purification, carbon capture and water harvesting.
In partnership with engineering firm Cambridge Precision and the Center for Global Equality network , some members of Jimenez’s team set out to research the use of the two materials for oxygen storage, and succeeded in developing a prototype. Now they hope to develop a final form within two months, to begin seeking approval to use it for medical purposes.
Mechanism of Action
The writer explained that his team’s project relies on the flow of a stream of air through an aluminum cylinder filled with porous materials; This purifies up to 95% of the oxygen, with argon making up the rest.
Because of the way electrical charges are distributed in its atoms, nitrogen is trapped in the zeolite; That is, nitrogen interacts more strongly with the electric field of zeolite than oxygen and argon gas. So the nitrogen remains trapped inside millions of tiny pores, then is emptied out after the oxygen is stored.
The team usually markets the porous materials through Cambridge University’s immaterial company . However, making huge profits from selling oxygen in the midst of a global pandemic is an unethical move.
In Africa, for example, oxygen is 5 times more expensive than in Europe and the United States; So Jimenez’s team teamed up with Emmaterial and other scientists in Cambridge to create an initiative to manufacture and develop oxygen-generating devices and “ventilators” (OVSI), with the goal of developing and manufacturing affordable medical oxygen.
The writer stated that he looks forward to keeping the oxygen generating devices cheap after the pandemic ends; Because the oxygen supply is essential for treating childhood pneumonia and chronic lung disease, both diseases that kill so many people, they outnumber deaths from diseases like AIDS or malaria.