What is an oxygen concentrator? How oxygen is made explained as UK sends machines to India amid Covid shortage

The UK has begun sending ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices to India

Oxygen is proving vital in the fight against Covid-19, but some hospitals in India are experiencing a shortage in supply as coronavirus cases surge.

But how is oxygen made, how does it help those with Covid, why is supply so short and what are oxygen concentrators?

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Here’s everything you need to know.

The UK has begun sending ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices to India (Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images)

How is oxygen made?

Oxygen can be produced using various methods, including air separation, chemical and electrolysis.

For example, oxygen can be made from hydrogen peroxide, which decomposes slowly to form water and oxygen.

However, the rate of reaction can be increased using the catalyst manganese oxide. When manganese oxide is added to hydrogen peroxide, bubbles of oxygen are given off.

In order to make oxygen in a laboratory, hydrogen peroxide is poured into a conical flask which contains some manganese oxide.

The gas produced from this reaction is then collected in an upside-down gas jar filled with water, and as the oxygen collects in the top of the gas jar, it pushes the water out.

A gas syringe can also be used to collect the oxygen instead of the gas jar and water bath.

Oxygen can be stored in cylinders, a vacuum insulated evaporator or a manifold cylinder bank, with most oxygen storage cylinders being made of steel.

Scientists working on the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) recently witnessed the first mechanised creation of oxygen in the history of the planet, with the tool being used in order to find the sparse levels of oxygen within the planet’s masses of CO2.

The mechanism takes in the planet’s atmosphere and heats it to extreme temperatures. Then, after all the air’s dust is filtered out, MOXIE strips the CO2 of its oxygen quantities and releases the remaining carbon monoxide through a vent, creating the preservation of small new stores of oxygen.

What are oxygen concentrators?

Oxygen concentrators - which are currently being sent to some hospitals overseas from the UK - dispense oxygen in almost exactly the same way that oxygen tanks or cylinders do, but they collect oxygen from the surrounding air instead.

These devices then concentrate the air and deliver it to the patient - which removes the need for replacement or refilling - whereas oxygen tanks contain a fixed amount of pressurised oxygen.

Medical oxygen can be used for a variety of reasons, including providing a basis for all modern anaesthetic techniques, restoring tissue oxygen tension by improving oxygen availability in conditions such as COPD, carbon monoxide poisoning and cardiac arrest, as well as providing life support for artificially ventilated patients.

How does oxygen help people with Covid?

Those struggling to breathe due to Covid-19 impacting the respiratory system may be given oxygen in order to increase the amount of oxygen in the lungs and blood.

However, some countries are experiencing a huge surge in the number of positive Covid infections, with a shortage in the supply of oxygen in some places.

Why is India experiencing a shortage in oxygen supply?

Cases of Covid in India have recently surged, with the country currently experiencing a critical shortage of oxygen.

India reported 349,691 more cases in the 24 hours to Sunday morning (25 April), as well as another 2,767 deaths.

India's capital of Delhi has extended its lockdown restrictions as overcrowded hospitals continue to turn patients away, with the number of patients being admitted to hospital outweighing the supply of oxygen.

However, international efforts are now underway to help India amid the critical oxygen shortages.

The UK has begun sending ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices to India, with EU members also due to send aid.

The first consignment of aid from the UK is set to arrive in India on Tuesday (27 April) and includes 495 oxygen concentrators. These concentrators can extract oxygen from the air when hospital oxygen systems have run out.

Aid from the UK also includes 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators, with further shipments expected to take place later in the week.