Steel manufacturer GPH Ispat is importing a $5 million oxygen liquefaction plant from China to produce liquefied oxygen for medical use – a step to meet the increasing demand for oxygen during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The installation of this plant, having a daily production capacity of 50-60 tonnes, will enable GPH to produce 70-80 tonnes of medical oxygen a day. This is expected to reduce the country's dependency on imported medical oxygen.
The company's existing 250-tonne-capacity oxygen plant – mainly used for steel production – in Sitakunda of Chattogram can produce 22-25 tonnes of liquid oxygen that is used for medical purposes.
It, however, says it needs government support to expedite the import of the liquefaction plant.
"We have started the procedure to import the plant. If the government helps us, we will be able to import the plant and start production in around 4 months – 2-3 months earlier than normal," said Md Almas Shimul, additional managing director of GPH Ispat.
"If the government negotiates with the Chinese government to ensure a timely shipment, we will be able to receive the plant within 2 months. After receiving the plant, it will take a maximum of 2 months to go into full production," he added.
"We will complete all the civil construction soon so that we can install the plant within a short time," he continued.
Shimul went on to say that their decision to import the oxygen plant is aimed at taking preparation for a further spike in Covid-19 infections or a rise in demand for oxygen. We have taken the step to produce medical oxygen to save lives.
"The ministry of health has assured us of extending all-out support for setting up the plant to produce medical oxygen," he said.
Due to the surge in infections of Covid-19, use of medical oxygen at hospitals has increased by 40-50% to 150-180 tonnes in recent months.
Local companies meet about 70-80% of the demand, while the rest of the amount was being met by imports from India until 22 April when the Indian government stopped oxygen export in the wake of a sharp rise in coronavirus infections in the country.
Linde Bangladesh, with a capacity to produce 90 tonnes of oxygen per day, leads the domestic market in supplying medical oxygen.
Meanwhile, amid a rise in Covid-19 cases, the government has prohibited the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes.
Dr Farid Hossain Miah, director (hospitals and clinics) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) expressed happiness over GPH Ispat's move to import the oxygen liquefaction plant.
He told The Business Standard, "If GPH produces liquid oxygen, then we won't need to import oxygen from India.
"Two local companies supply liquid oxygen to public and private hospitals in the country. Due to some crises, we need to meet a portion of oxygen demand by importing from India."
Even though there is no shortage of oxygen in the country at present, a crisis might develop if the number of Covid-19 cases goes up, he said, adding, "Hence, if another domestic company comes forward to produce oxygen, the crisis may be averted."
TBS called Lokman Hossain Miah, secretary of the health ministry, several times on his phone for comment, but he did not answer.
However, Abdul Mannan, former health secretary and incumbent secretary of the Ministry of Jute and Textiles, told The Business Standard, "We have to think about how we can become self-reliant on oxygen to face any crisis. GPH Ispat has sought our help in setting up the oxygen plant. We have told them that we will provide them with necessary support in this regard."
Mentioning that oxygen is the key element for the treatment of the Covid-19 patients, Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi, civil surgeon of Chattogram, told The Business Standard, "If the plant is set up here, it will provide us a great deal of relief."
On 29 August 2016, GPH Ispat signed an agreement with Chinese firm Sichuan Air Separation Plant (group) Co. Ltd to build a 250-tonne capacity oxygen plant.
The plant was commissioned after July last year. From 250 tonnes of oxygen, GPH Ispat can produce 22-25 tonnes of liquid oxygen that is used for medical purposes. The rest is gaseous oxygen that is needed for steel production.
Almas Shimul said his company is currently supplying the liquid oxygen produced in its existing plant to different hospitals free of cost. "We have no problem in reducing steel production to produce life saving oxygen at our plant. But for producing medical oxygen, we need a liquefaction plant."
GPH Ispat has appointed 11 new persons and also bought a truck to ensure uninterrupted supply of oxygen to hospitals not only in the Chattogram city but also in rural areas. The company provides oxygen free of cost and also transports it to the hospitals.
"The people of the country made GPH such a big corporate company. From the responsibility towards the people of the country, GPH Ispat has come forward to help the people in these hard times without thinking about making profit," said Almas Shimul.
"We have kept our factory open round the clock to ensure an uninterrupted supply of oxygen. Besides hospitals, anyone can refill oxygen cylinders at our factory. Our team members are on their toes. Whenever they receive any text message from any hospital or civil surgeon, they rush the oxygen to them," he added.