Honeywell: "Oxygen made from our zeolite has saved 120,000 Covid patients in India" - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 7 July 2021

Honeywell: "Oxygen made from our zeolite has saved 120,000 Covid patients in India"

Patented technology of US firm, which joined hands with the DRDO last month, is expected to save 66,500 more lives in July-August


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 8th July 21


US firm, Honeywell UOP, is supplying India with the raw material needed for producing medical grade oxygen, which has already saved the lives of an estimated 120,000 Covid-19 patients in this country.


In July and August, another 66,500 Indian patients are expected to recover from Covid-19 with the help of oxygen produced from zeolite, a “medical oxygen adsorbent” that Honeywell UOP produces at a plant in Italy. Honeywell UOP has pledged to supply India with the entire production output of that factory.


Honeywell estimates that 10 kilos of zeolite produce enough oxygen to save one Covid-19 patient’s life. Honeywell UOP has already delivered 1,200 tonnes of zeolite to India by the end of June and is on track to supply another 665 tonnes in July and August.


Honeywell UOP invented the first zeolite materials in the 1940s. This highly porous crystalline material, with tiny molecular-sized pores, extracts oxygen from natural air, by separating the nitrogen, which constitutes 78 per cent of air, from oxygen, which makes up 20 per cent. 


In this process, natural air is passed over a bed of zeolite material. The smaller nitrogen molecules get caught in the zeolite’s small pores, while the larger oxygen molecules flow over the material, getting progressively more concentrated as the nitrogen molecules are filtered out. Oxygen is eventually concentrated to 93 per cent using this process.


India does not have a shortage of oxygen, but most manufacturers are located in East India and distribution poses logistical challenges. The oxygen, once manufactured, needs to be transported to the end users in cryogenic tankers and then filled in oxygen cylinders.


The zoolite process provides a good way to supplement oxygen supply to hospitals. Instead of relying on oxygen to be delivered in liquid form, or in oxygen cylinders, the zoolite process allows medical oxygen plants to be fabricated in the immediate vicinity of Covid-19 hospitals.


To help in bringing up these medical oxygen plants, Honeywell UOP announced a partnership last month with the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR–IIP). DRDO-CSIR was tasked with identifying and dedicating companies as manufacturing partners to build machines for producing oxygen.


Besides identifying and dedicating companies to manufacture machines for producing oxygen, the DRDO took on a lot of the logistics, such as sending freighter aircraft to Italy to take delivery of the zeolite from the plant. Ships were taking too long and early supply was critical.


“We are redirecting our global supply of Honeywell UOP adsorbents from Italy to India to help the Government of India install life-saving oxygen plants across the country. Our technologists and scientists are collaborating with DRDO and CSIR-IIP scientists to meet India’s needs,” states Akshay Bellare, President, Honeywell India.


“India was not the only country that was requesting zeolites. We were full with requests for medical oxygen. But given how dire the situation here was and how much demand there was from here, we prioritised supply to India over other countries,” said Mike Banach, the India head of Honeywell UOP.


Honeywell UOP has had a long presence in India. In 2012, it established a Technology Development Centre in Gurugram. This state-of-the-art facility, which carries out R&D for India and the US, is the only such centre Honeywell UOP has outside the US. 


Honeywell UOP is also providing renewable fuels technology, which it develops in India, to varied industries, especially in the oil refining and petrochemicals sectors. With the Indian Air Force promoting the use of green fuel in its aircraft, Honeywell has provided its Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP) technology, which converts bio-mass into aviation fuel.

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