An oxygen concentrator or an oxygen generator is used when a patient requires oxygen therapy. Compared to other oxygen supplies such as tanks, an oxygen concentrator is safer, more affordable and more convenient. Portable oxygen concentrators are also available which are even more convenient than the standard devices.
An oxygen concentrator is based on the principle that when nitrogen is exposed to zeolite materials, it sticks to them if the pressure is high. Zeolite is porous and adsorbs nitrogen in huge quantities. However, if the pressure is decreased, the nitrogen gas is released back into the air.
There are generally two cylinders in an oxygen machine and both of them contain zeolite pellets. These are subjected to compressed natural air. The zeolite adsorbs almost all of the nitrogen present in air, and the output from the cylinder is nearly pure oxygen gas.
After just a passage of a few seconds, zeolite saturates and so the compressed air is transmitted to the second zeolite cylinder. At the same time, the pressure in the first cylinder is reduced so that the nitrogen can escape. When zeolite in the second cylinder saturates, the first cylinder is again used to supply oxygen, and the pressure in the other cylinder is reduced. This process then continues repeatedly and an uninterrupted supply of oxygen is delivered to the patient.
The main components of an oxygen machine other than the zeolite beds are given below.
- Air Filter: Prevents large particles in the air from entering into the system
- Compressor: Takes up natural air from the environment, compresses it and transmits it to the zeolite cylinders
- Oxygen Tank: Collects pure oxygen and delivers it to the patient
- Valves: Adjust the flow at which oxygen is delivered to a patient