Oxygen concentrators are medical devices used to assist patients who require more oxygen than is available in the ambient air. Oxygen therapy is a common method of treatment for many lung and respiratory conditions. An oxygen concentrator is a considerably safer and more convenient alternative to compressed oxygen tanks.
An oxygen concentrator has two cylinders filled with a substance called zeolite, which removes nitrogen from the air. One cylinder is pressurized and the nitrogen is absorbed, while in the second chamber it’s allowed to dissipate back into the surrounding air. Concentrators are available that handle various flow rates and concentrations to meet the individual needs of the patient.
While most are units that have to be plugged in to work well, there are also portable concentrators available. Although they are generally less efficient, they can make a huge difference in a person’s life who requires breathing assistance or can’t absorb enough oxygen from the air on their own. Many can be plugged into cars or run on battery power, and the FAA has approved their use on airplanes, although you have to check in before hand. Some models aren’t allowed by some airlines, so it’s best to research first.
Aside from the medical use, oxygen concentrators can also be used in military, recreation, industry, and emergency relief. The military uses them in combat aircraft to provide pilots with oxygen at high altitudes. They can be used recreationally by mountain climbers and divers. Because they are so much safer and easier to transport than oxygen tanks, they are very useful in disaster and emergency situations, especially around fire where compressed oxygen from a tank can drastically increase combustion.
In the industrial world, oxygen concentrators are used in a variety of situations. They provide the oxygen to bring fire to sufficient heat for many processes. They can also help protect certain materials during manufacturing. Industrial units are sometimes referred to as oxygen generators in order to distinguish them from their medical counterparts. This isn’t an accurate name however, since they aren’t actually generating the oxygen.