How Industrial Gas Firms Are Meeting Medical Oxygen Demand for COVID-19 Patients

by Alex Scott, senior editor for Europe, Chemical and Engineering News,

Gas companies worldwide have ramped up the delivery of gas cylinders and are installing new on-site liquid oxygen tanks and supply systems in hospitals as demand surges for medical oxygen to treat patients with COVID-19. The European Industrial Gases Association says members such as Air Liquide (CSA CSM) and Linde (CSA CSM) are experiencing five to ten times the usual demand for medical O2.

To meet the demand spike in the US, companies are installing tanks at pre-established and pop-up hospitals around the country. Air Products recently put a 40,000 L medical O2 tank and a 14,000 L reserve tank at a pop-up hospital at the US Tennis Association’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City. The facility has 400 beds.

In Italy and eastern France, Air Liquide has seen four to six times the normal demand for medical oxygen. Despite the surge, the company says it doesn’t anticipate supply shortages.

Linde, Germany’s biggest supplier of medical gases, is operating cylinder-filling stations 24/7 and has increased its number of cylinder deliveries to meet demand.

Nippon Gases’ subsidiary, Oximesa, has shifted to a 24-hour production schedule in Spain. In Madrid, Air Products and Air Liquide have jointly installed seven kilometers of oxygen piping in the IFEMA Convention Centre, which has become a pop-up hospital.

Linde subsidiary BOC has installed oxygen tanks and four kilometers of piping in the Nightingale Hospital, a 4,000-bed pop-up facility in the ExCel London exhibition center. Installing the tanks will free up 3,000 cylinders. “We remain confident that we will be able to maintain essential gas supplies within the UK,” BOC says.

Medical oxygen typically accounts for 15% of merchant O2 supply in the US and Europe, according to John Raquet, CEO of the gases media company Gasworld. About 45 million cylinders are in circulation in both regions, of which 15–20% are certified for medical O2, according to Gasworld.

“Although a few hospitals have experienced low levels of oxygen or a lack of cylinders, there will not be any national shortages—even though demand will increase further as many countries have not seen a peak in virus cases yet,” Raquet says.