With India reporting a record surge of 379,257 cases and 3,645 deaths due to Covid-19 cases, the country’s oxygen demand is also touching a fresh high touching almost 8,100 metric tonnes per day (MTPD), while it has a comfortable production number of over 9,000 MTPD per day now.
However, a cause of concern for the country is the shortage on the number of cryogenic tankers required to transport oxygen to various parts of the country. According to estimates by the Petroleum And Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), the country may immediately require at least around 300 more such cryogenic tankers of 10 tonnes and 20 tonnes capacity, based on the current trend in rising demand. Transportation of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) was a major bottleneck that the government was facing due to the shortage of such tankers, to transport surplus oxygen from eastern India to other parts of the country.
“Oxygen stocks are sufficiently available. At present, the demand is close to 8,100 MTPD. The problem is transportation because it requires high-cost special cryogenic vessels. Those are limited in India,” said a senior government official in terms of anonymity. The country has at present around 2,400 cryogenic tankers to transport oxygen – this includes 1,400 cryogenic tanks for oxygen and another 1,000 for nitrogen and argon. The average cost of such a tanker comes to approximately Rs 50 lakh.
The rise in demand can be compared to the oxygen consumption of around 4,300 MTPD as on mid of April this year and 3,100 MTPD in April last year and 850 MTPD during the pre-pandemic period, based on data shared by the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers’ Association. To tide over the shortage of cryogenic tankers, the Centre has imported 20 such tankers of 10 tonnes and 20 tonnes capacity and has already allocated them to states.
Around 70 per cent of the active cases are coming from states like Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Kerala. To meet rising demand, the Centre has decided to import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen. In addition to that, steel plants in the country are having a stock of around 50,000 metric tonnes already in place. “The government is also in talks with multiple countries for import of oxygen and also oxygen concentrators,” the official said.
Before pandemic India was only using around 20 per cent of the overall oxygen produced for medical purposes. After the current spike in Covid cases and the demand for oxygen increased, the government had permitted the conversion of a part of India’s nitrogen and argon tankers to enable the transportation of oxygen.
To improve the availability of oxygen in the country, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade has also directed public and private sector steel producers to reduce their oxygen safety stock from 3.5 days to 0.5 days. To address the scarcity of oxygen tankers, India’s Tata Group and Linde India have tied up to procure 24 cryogenic containers for the carriage of medical oxygen from international sources. Similarly, ITC has also tied up with Linde India to airlift two dozen oxygen containers from other Asian countries.