There’s no shortage of oxygen, but the issue is how to transport it: Abhijit Banerjee, MD of Linde India

Amid soaring demand for medical oxygen from across the country, , one of the largest manufacturers of oxygen and other gases in the country, is churning out more oxygen from its plants every day than they were designed for. The company is also converting containers meant for other gases like nitrogen and argon for oxygen transport to ease the logistical crisis as most production facilities are far from demand centres, its managing director Abhijit Banerjee told ET in an interview. Edited excerpts:

What is currently the issue around oxygen availability?

If you see on a pan-India basis, there is no shortage of liquid oxygen, but we don’t know what will happen in the future. Unfortunately, it is about the geographical separation between the substantial bulk of plants producing oxygen and those in need. That is the problem that we are trying to mitigate.

What role is Linde India playing in terms of mitigating this crisis?

We have been tweaking our plants to produce as much liquid oxygen as possible. Our liquid oxygen capacities prior to the second wave (of Covid-19) were roughly around 2,000 metric tonnes per day. Right now, we are producing around 2,500-2,600 tonnes a day. We’ve also started converting our tankers meant for nitrogen and argon to transport oxygen now. Linde Plc in India has, or had, around 350 tankers for nitrogen and argon service. Around 250 of them are getting converted as we speak.

Can you give us an update on the present demand and supply of oxygen in India?

The daily requirement is hovering around 7,000 to 8,000 tonnes. Total oxygen making capacity in India should be 9,000 tonnes per day.

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Is there a cylinder shortage in India? Is it the next big supply-chain bottleneck that we need to prepare for?

Not all hospitals have liquid oxygen facilities, right? There are several hospitals which are depending on cylinder-based supplies. The total demand has shot up incredibly and is much more than what the supply chain can handle. We have compressed medical oxygen plants in various parts of the country. In the areas which are facing the most shortage, which are the west and the north, these plants are running at full capacity.

A lot of cylinder-filling capacities are not within the organised sector and the smaller players may need some support in terms of augmenting their facilities. We should start planning for it. I would not rule out the possibility of it being the next bottleneck.

What is the support that you’ve got from other corporates in India?

Tata Steel was one of the first to step in to help us in getting these cryogenic containers. ITC is helping us too. As we speak, an Indian Air Force aircraft would have taken off from Bangkok with containers that ITC is helping us get. Apart from that, there are other companies like the Adanis who have given their containers to us for operating on our circuits. We have more sponsorship offers right now than the assets through which we can channel them. Some of our drivers are down with Covid and companies are also offering to send their drivers to help us.


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