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Restoring PSM oxygen plants best option for sustainable supply: IPI


May 5, 2021

Islamabad: The Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) on Tuesday asked the government not to be overwhelmed by challenges in the revival of oxygen plants at the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) and to take urgent steps for their restoration in view of critical COVID-19 pandemic situation.

The Islamabad-based think tank held a virtual discussion on the aggravating Covid-19 situation and the increasing pressure on medical facilities and supplies, particularly oxygen. IPI appreciated the government efforts for beginning the deliberations and assessment for the rehabilitation of the two 260 Tons per Day oxygen plants at PSM, which had been lying closed for about six years now, and emphasized that the facility has to be revived notwithstanding the challenges that could come in the way.

IPI distinguished fellow Dr. Ilyas Fazil, while moderating the discussion, said, “There will be problems related to the main equipment being idle for a long period of time but nothing that cannot be circumvented with the right expertise and supervision.”

Dr. Fazil noted that the assessments were based on inputs from M. Naim and Munawar Maqbool, both former members of PSM Technical Management, with the latter having served as the Deputy General Manager of the PSM Oxygen Plant.

Emphasizing the urgency of the situation, Dr. Fazil said, was a matter of survival in the Covid-19 spike being currently witnessed in the country, which had 86,151 active cases as of May 4 with 5,326 patients on critical care. The trend of positivity rates is also high.

Therefore, it is feared that the situation could in the coming days aggravate, putting further stress on the medical system. The country has increased its capacity since the start of the pandemic last year. Oxygen production capacity has increased to about 800 tons daily from about 465 tons last year. But, the current trajectory of the disease suggests that the country is still short of enough oxygen and crisis could just be around the corner. The gravity of the situation can be adjudged from the government statistics, which say that 19,200 oxygen cylinders were imported last year. Moreover, elective surgeries in many hospitals have been put on hold to save oxygen for Covid-19 patients.

The government is also planning to import 6,000 tons oxygen, 5,000 cylinders and 20 cryogenic tanks during the month of May to avoid an acute shortage as was disclosed by Chairman National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) Asad Umar. Dr Fazil said that besides considering the import of oxygen, the government should “look inwards first and utilize the indigenous resource waiting to be tapped. It provides an excellent opportunity to ensure a sustainable oxygen source for Covid19 and other patients during this crisis and save thousands of lives.”

Touching upon the condition of the oxygen plants at PSM, Dr. Fazil said, one of the two plants can be operationalized immediately. “The Battery of its Cold Box needs replacement and can be flown in from France along with engineers to install and operate it.” Additionally, availability of sea water at the oxygen plant battery limits and of electricity to the plant will need to be ensured. Sea water lines and pumps require to be rehabilitated from their corroded condition.

The plants can currently produce only 10% liquid oxygen, which can be transported to the hospitals and used for medical purposes, the rest is for industrial use. However, Dr. Fazil said, the proportion of liquid oxygen could be increased to 60% by importing the compressors from China for converting gas to liquid form.

Emphasizing that time is of the essence, Dr. Fazil proposed rehiring of managers and staff, who previously operated and maintained the oxygen plants, for their rehabilitation. He also called for fast-tracking all bureaucratic and financial approvals so that the restoration work could be begun at the earliest.