How oxygen concentrators work

What is an oxygen concentrator?

Oxygen Concentrator

An oxygen concentrator is a medical device that concentrates oxygen by using a gas supply to filter nitrogen from surrounding ambient air.  It then compresses it so that it is dense enough. The purified medical grade oxygen is then supplied by means of a pulse-dose delivery or continuous system to the patient.

It is used for supplying oxygen to individuals with breathing-related disorders, difficulties or with a below-normal oxygen concentration in their blood. Oxygen needs to be replaced often for these individuals. Normally, the output of the oxygen concentrator is measured in LPM (litres per minute). The patient’s doctor will need to determine the correct level needed which will differ when resting, sleeping and exercising.

Medical oxygen concentrators

Medical oxygen concentrators for home use were invented in the early 1970’s. Before then, cumbersome and heavy high pressure oxygen cylinders or small cryogenic liquid oxygen systems were used for home medical oxygen therapy. In the 1950’s, The Union Carbide Corporation invented the molecular sieve which made these devices possible as well as the first cryogenic liquid home medical oxygen systems in invented by them in the 1960’s.

Both systems required regular home visits by suppliers to replenish oxygen supplies. Due to lower manufacturing costs, the durable medical equipment (DME) industry quickly welcomed concentrators as an effective way to control costs. Oxygen concentrators for home use have became the preferred and most common used means of supplying home oxygen to individuals.

Oxygen concentrators

Oxygen concentrators are not available over the counter as it must be prescribed by a doctor after a full medical evaluation has been done. Patients are also then shown how to use these concentrators while travelling and in their home by the same doctor.

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How oxygen concentrators work

How oxygen concentrators work?

Oxygen concentrators typically use pressure swing adsorption (PSA) technology and are used very widely for oxygen provision in healthcare applications, especially where liquid or pressurized oxygen is too dangerous or inconvenient, such as in homes or in remote clinics & hospitals. For other purposes there are also concentrators based on membrane technology.

An oxygen concentrator takes in air and removes nitrogen from it, leaving an oxygen enriched gas for use by people requiring medical oxygen due to low oxygen levels in their blood. Oxygen concentrators are also used to provide an economical source of oxygen in industrial processes, where they are also known as oxygen gas generators or oxygen generating systems. Oxygen concentrators utilize a molecular sieve to adsorb gases and operate on the principle of rapid pressure swing adsorption of atmospheric nitrogen onto zeolite minerals and then venting the nitrogen. This type of adsorption system is therefore functionally a nitrogen scrubber leaving the other atmospheric gases to pass through. This leaves oxygen as the primary gas remaining. PSA technology is an incredibly reliable and economical technique for oxygen production, with cryogenic separation more suitable at higher volumes and external delivery generally more suitable for small volumes.

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