Year/Course: 2022-2023, Easter 2023
Project type: Development

Inventor: Ben Moore, OVSI
Mentor: TBC

The medical oxygen concentrators typically used by health facilities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) were designed for home use in developed countries with temperate climates, reliable electricity access and regular maintenance services. When these devices are operated in harsh environmental and challenging infrastructural conditions, including high humidity and power fluctuations, they are often unable to produce the flow rate and concentration of oxygen needed for medical use.

The concentrators work by having a lithium-based alumino-silicate molecular sieve which adsorbs nitrogen molecules from a source of compressed air while allowing oxygen molecules to pass through. This gives a concentrated outlet gas stream of approximately 95% oxygen. In humid conditions, excess water vapour in the inlet air accumulates in the molecular sieve pores, severely reducing the performance of the molecular sieve and causing the concentration of oxygen produced by the device to drop dramatically. Molecular sieves are contained within sieve beds inside the device – replacement sieve beds are expensive and can take up to 6 months to arrive due to underdeveloped supply chains.

It is possible to regenerate the molecular sieve by removing the water molecules through the application of heat and a vacuum or a very dry gas flow; this process is already used in laboratories and in manufacturing molecular sieves to activate the material at the end of the production line.

A regeneration service could be offered in LMICs to allow sieve material to be reused once it has been exposed to moisture, ensuring that oxygen concentrators can continue to provide critical medical support to patients.

The challenge for the i-Team is to help the OVSI team understand the market potential of this type of service and engage more widely with stakeholders to determine their requirements. Questions to be answered include:

  • Is this a desirable service to offer health facilities instead of waiting for replacement sieve beds to be delivered?
  • The machinery and infrastructure needed to carry out regeneration could easily scale in size to support anything from a single hospital to a national facility. Where would be best to locate this type of facility i.e., small regeneration machine for a hospital/local regeneration hub/regional/national?
  • What is the pricing range that would make this service an affordable option for health facilities?

The findings will help OVSI develop a service that properly matches the needs of their customers and partners.