DRDO offers tech from LCA Tejas oxygen system to hospitals fighting COVID-19

The system generates oxygen directly from the air and can be useful in remote areas

DRDO Tejas derby r-73 The naval Tejas fighter taking off from the ski-jump with Derbys (mounted on the inner-wing hardpoints) and R-73s (painted white, on outer-wing hardpoints) | Twitter handle of DRDO

A spin-off from a critical technology that would aid future pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) flying the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas with a non-stop supply of oxygen while undertaking long-endurance missions is now being offered to hospitals combating the coronavirus.

This product to fly out from the hangars of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is in the form of a Medical Oxygen Plant (MOP), is an offshoot technology from the Onboard Oxygen (OBOX) generation system being developed for the Tejas.

The MOP technology is developed by Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL), a life sciences wing of DRDO situation in Bengaluru’s C.V. Raman Nagar.

MOP utilizes pressure swing adsorption (PSA) technique and molecular sieve technology to generate oxygen directly from atmospheric air.

The OBOX technology for Tejas being developed by DEBEL has been approved by the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC), an agency mandated to certify the products being transferred to a Coimbatore-based firm.

“This plant will be useful to provide oxygen supply during corona pandemic in hospitals in urban and rural areas. The installation of MOP helps in avoiding hospital’s dependency of scarce oxygen cylinders,” says a DRDO official monitoring the work.

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak, the scientists at DEBEL have been working on developing various products for the healthcare sector.

Masks and sanitizers developed by the lab have already been distributed in bulk, while work on affordable ventilators has reached advanced stages of completion.

Several benefits

Scientists say that the MOP can be used extensively at hospitals situated at high altitude and inaccessible remote areas.

“There are several benefits including reduced logistics of transporting cylinders to these areas, low cost, continuous and reliable oxygen supply available round the clock. The facility can also be used for filling the cylinders in addition to direct installations at the hospitals,” says a scientist.

DRDO has already used this technology to install oxygen plants at some of the military hospitals and establishments in the northeast and in the Leh-Ladakh region.

The first such plant set up in Tawang is operational since 2017 and it complies with international standards like ISO 1008, European, US and Indian pharmacopoeia.

Unique features

The MOP has high reliability, full in dependency with automation and reduces logistics. This safe technology needs only minimum maintenance and can be operated at low cost. It is free of oil and produces oxygen instantaneously from ambient air and works round-the-clock.

The electric oxygen compressor can charge the cylinders up to 200 bar. It has stored oxygen supply for transient power failures and boasts of low energy consumption. It can also be operated via remote control.

The MOP contains an air compressor, air dryer, oxygen generator and a compressor. Each plant can fill up to 60 47-litre (water capacity) cylinders a day and operate round-the-clock.

“The oxygen capacity depends on the pressure of filling, which is about 150-200 bar. The industry holding the transfer of technology can ramp up its production and can install up to 20 plants in five weeks,” says a scientist.

The system can cater to 60 patients at a flow rate of 5 LPM (litres per minute) and can charge up to 60 cylinders per day. The capacity can be varied as per the hospital requirement. The plant is designed for a capacity of 18 NM3 per hour (NM3 or normal meter cubed per hour is the unit to measure the gas flow rate).

For the Tejas OBOX, the scientists have used a zeolite-based technology and the system will undergo trials soon.

“We have completed all ground-based trials of OBOX on the test rigs and the pilots are satisfied with the results. It will now be integrated on one of the test variants of Tejas for flight trials. IT has been already cleared by the Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness,” says an official.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Indian Railways are among the several prospective users who have shown interest in DEBEL’s MOP.

The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.

(This article was originally published in OnManorama)