While Maharashtra is the top producer of oxygen in India followed by Gujarat, demand has outstripped supply in the two western states. On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh does not have a single oxygen manufacturing plant and has to depend on its neighbours for supplies.
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“The two western states which manufacture the maximum liquid medical oxygen in the country are also the ones consuming it the most at present,” said Inox Air Products director Siddharth Jain.
The company, a 50:50 joint venture between the Jain family and American liquid medical oxygen producer Air Products, has 27 plants in India, of which four are in Maharashtra and three in Gujarat.
“Excess oxygen is available in other regions like Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha. But the challenge is logistics (storage and distribution system),” Jain added. He lauded the initiative by the Indian Railways of a roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) train on which empty cryogenic tankers will be ferried to oxygen-surplus destinations and then delivered to states needing it.
“Oxygen, which is air, is just around you, it need not travel. But this (transporting liquid O2 from East to West through RoRo) has never been done anywhere in the world. Liquid oxygen is not designed to travel thousands of kilometers. Usually, plants are set up where there is a requirement (like in industrial locations),” Jain explained.
India produces 7,000 tons of liquid oxygen a day. Of this, Inox Air Products manufactures 2,000 tons. On people complaining about shortage of oxygen (though Inox Air claims its availability), Jain said, “People need to understand that this is not the government’s fault or the government’s doing. There is a supply-demand variance where some states have excess supply.”
In the pre-Covid period, 20% of the total oxygen production was sold to the healthcare sector. Post-Covid, this increased to 70% when the infection wave peaked last September. Now, the entire production caters only to the medical industry.
Talking about metal producers, refineries and other manufacturers diverting oxygen supplies to hospitals, and a possible impact on their productions, Jain said, “Certain industries will have to sacrifice. But it will be short-lived, maybe for a month or two.”