Karnataka to consider oxygen making in sugar factories

The state government is exploring an option of allowing sugar factories produce oxygen.

Murugesh Nirani, minister for mines and geology, told journalists in Bagalkot on Thursday that the government would soon convene a meeting of officers and sugar factory managers to discuss the issue.

This follows the experiment in Maharashtra where two factories have begun producing oxygen. One factory in Osmanabad is producing 20 tonnes of oxygen by modifying some equipment. Another has begun on a pilot basis on Friday.

Senior officers tell me that sugar mills producing Ethanol can produce oxygen easily. I have asked senior them to explore the possibility and encourage sugar mills to do so, he said.

I am appealing to my friends in the sugar industry to attempt this. This will one of the ways in which they give back to society, he said. He told The Hindu that he will ask technicians in his factories to prepare for Oxygen production. However, it may take between 4- 6 months. “It might help us face the third wave of the epidemic that experts are predicting,’’ the minister said.

An officer at the sugar commissionerate said this would address the oxygen scarcity. “Out of 118 registered factories in the state, only 71 are functional. They can be roped into produce oxygen. It will address the problem of scarcity and reduce the cost and time spent in transporting them,’’ the officer said. The government is yet to issue any order regarding this, he said.

However, the factories say it is not so easy. “We can do it. But it is not easy. It involves new investment and significant time. Importantly, work will not start without the government taking the initiative,’’ says Siddarth Wadennanavar, managing director of two sugar factories in Belagavi.

According to him, Oxygen generation in sugar factories is a separate project and the modifications are not easy to come by.

“The most modern factory has only around 20 per cent of the functional machinery. The rest 80 per cent of the machinery need to be installed separately. We need molecular sieves that need to be imported, air purifiers, oxygen separators and compressors need to be installed. Some of these are not made in India and need to be imported. All that can happen only if the government intervenes. It should not only help us get the equipment but also ensure that the oxygen we produce after putting in so much of investment and effort has a steady market,’’ said Mr Wadennanavar.

Scientists say it is not as difficult as the mills make it to be. Rayanna Khandagave, scientist and director. S Nijalingappa sugar institute, a state government research centre, said the factories could take it up with minimal modifications. “Most factories are already equipped to produce Ethanol. They can start oxygen production in a short time, he said. This is their off season time and sugar mills are sitting idle. They could hire a few professionals, buy some new equipment and start production. They could approach the government if they need any help,’’ he said.

“Oxygen can be produced where ever Carbon Dioxide is a by product. However, it might take some time,’’ said Eshwar Khandre who has been the chairman of a sugar factory for over a decade. “I urge the government to step in and support the factories to start production wherever feasible,’’ he said.

“I think only the mills that have a distillery attached to them can produce the gases. Not all factories have distillery units. It could take between 2-4 weeks, if we start preparing from today. Who knows how many will die in that time? The government reduce bottlenecks in transport and ensure easy and quick supply of industrial and liquid oxygen,’’ he said.

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