Repairing an oxygen generator
Matt Hernandez repairs an oxygen generator at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency's MMOD-Hill depot at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on Jan. 10, 2019. (Photo Credit: R. Nial Bradshaw) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT DETRICK, Md. — Sustainment experts at U.S. Army Medical Logistics Command are discussing emerging technologies in the field of mobile oxygen production that could potentially reduce future maintenance requirements and provide a reliable source of oxygen on the battlefield.

Bill Sovitsky, supervisory equipment specialist with AMLC’s Policy & Analysis Directorate, said he learned more about these new electrochemical oxygen systems while attending the Oxygen Standardization Coordinating Group, an annual assembly focused on designing and manufacturing oxygen solutions for the warfighter.

The summit is attended by U.S. and international military forces, as well as industry leaders.

While still in conceptual phases of development, electrochemical oxygen systems may eliminate the need for air compressors that are needed for current technology, known as pressure swing/vacuum swing adsorption (PSA/VSA).

Rather than using compressed air and a molecular sieve to extract oxygen from the air in VSA/PSA systems, the electrochemical process uses a very thin inorganic membrane and an electrical charge that, when transmitted across the membrane, permits only oxygen to pass through.

From a sustainment perspective, this new technology has the potential to reduce downtime associated with preventative and corrective maintenance, Sovitsky said.

“They might also reduce the requirement for repair parts and maintainer training,” he added. “They will run quieter, reduce fire danger and potentially reduce or eliminate the need for oxygen cylinders on the battlefield. This reduces transportation and refilling requirements. They have a great potential to affect readiness.”

AMLC is the Army’s premier medical logistics organization, serving as the Life Cycle Management Command responsible for the sustainment of complex medical devices, such as field portable oxygen systems. AMLC works closely with the materiel developer to ensure proper maintenance plans and lifecycle support for products they field.

The OSCG, which has existed in different forms since 1959, held its annual meeting virtually over two days in late July, bringing dozens of subject-matter experts together around the topics of oxygen systems in aviation and medical settings. Sovitsky has participated in the group since 2003, serving as the Army co-chair and medical systems expert for the past decade.

The goals of the DOD and industry group are to promote oxygen system safety, standards, technologies, reliability and commonality, while reducing life cycle costs, and, in general, disseminating information about military oxygen systems and programs.

“Oxygen plays a key role on the battlefield, both in aviation and medical,” Sovitsky said. “It allows our warfighters to safely execute their missions on land, sea and in the air. It plays a critical role in saving patient lives and returning the sick and wounded to duty.”

The COVID-19 pandemic not only forced the group to hold its annual meeting virtually, but it also provided a stark reminder of the importance of oxygen on the broader health care community, he added.

“The pandemic rapidly increased the demand for oxygen and, in some areas of the world, outstripped supply with dire consequences,” Sovitsky said. “The recent focus on large-scale conflict with peer and near-peer adversaries also emphasizes the potential for rapid increases in oxygen demand.

“We must be ready to supply the warfighter with safe and effective oxygen systems to meet this challenge.”