USAF researchers test deployable oxygen generation

The US Air Force has said it is developing and testing a new design of portable oxygen concentrators to ensure they are safe to fly on aircraft.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the portable oxygen concentrator for use. This USAF testing process follows the Joint En Route Care Equipment Test Standard that involves testing by a team of subject matter experts to ensure the medical device is safe to use on applicable airlift platforms in the USAF inventory.

Tom Solomon, a USAF Life Cycle Management Center medical subject matter expert at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, explained: “We want to make sure the aircraft does not interfere with the equipment and the equipment does not interfere with the aircraft,” said Solomon. “We also need to ensure the device works properly at higher altitudes. It’s our hope that the smaller footprint of this new device will make real improvements to combat casualty care.”

Mark Laidler, a USAF civilian and programme manager for the battlefield oxygen development programme, said: “We are working to address gaps in current combat oxygen delivery systems. There is a need for increased portability, safer equipment to transport, and increased oxygen flow rates down range.”

To solve this problem, the USAF said its Air Force Medical Service researchers are developing and testing new, lighter, safer and easier to deploy oxygen delivery systems. A major step in this direction is a system called SAROS 15, which works as an oxygen concentrator instead of depending on a traditional oxygen tank, said the USAF.

“Our new oxygen concentrator delivers oxygen at a rate of 15 litres per minute,” said Solomon. “This is a vital improvement to traditional liquid oxygen tanks without compromising the US Pharmacopeia (USP) medical-grade oxygen concentration standards.”

The USP standard for ‘medical O2’ requires at least a 90-per-cent concentration, noted the USAF. The new system does not deliver quite as high a concentration as a liquid oxygen tank, but still exceeds the USP standard with a concentration of approximately 93 per cent, and offers other significant improvements.

Air Force Medical Service researchers are also working to make the device more portable for combat medics to transport and use in austere settings where they may have limited vehicle support. The portable oxygen concentrator weighs in at 46 pounds (21 kg), considerably lighter than comparable models of oxygen delivery systems, said the USAF. The manufacturer was also able to simplify the device and improve the battery technology for a full hour of operation.

The AFMS also improved on the medical features of existing portable oxygen devices. Current technology has a flow rate around three to four litres per minute, said the USAF; while this works in most cases, it is not enough for patients with seriously compromised lung function.

Another benefit of relying on an oxygen concentrator is that the device does not pose the same risks associated with liquid oxygen tanks. “There are safety issues when it comes to carrying liquid oxygen, as they are highly explosive and dangerous,” said Laidler.

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