Here is the amount of oxygen supplied by the Sterlite copper smelter in Vedanta since it reopened
It was a proposal that raised some eyebrows, involved the Supreme Court, and required clearances from the Center and the government of Tamil Nadu. But when Vedanta offered to reopen two oxygen plants at its controversial Sterlite copper smelter in Tuticorin – closed for three years due to pollution claims and a subsequent government decision – the company said it would help reduce the shortage of medical oxygen in the country.
As of May 28, Vedanta has produced more than 200 tons of medical oxygen from the smelter in the past fortnight.
“The quantum we sent to various hospitals nearby is around 215 tonnes of medical oxygen in liquid form,” says Pankaj Kumar, CEO of Sterlite Copper, in conversation with CNBC-TV18. But it was not easy.
Many technical and logistical challenges
A snag in the factory’s “cooler” just days after it reopened threatened to derail its production and oxygen supply. “We expected problems because the factory has been closed for so long,” Kumar adds. “We developed a leak in our cooler, which took a while to recover. But since we restarted operations on May 19, we have been running continuously. “
However, the challenges did not end there. “We kept asking ourselves how to transport this oxygen in a way that can be useful to people who need it,” says Kumar. “One of the ways was to transport it as liquid oxygen. In general, industrial oxygen plants are designed to produce gaseous oxygen, which is needed in processes in copper or copper plants. ‘steel,’ he adds.
Kumar continues: “Of the total oxygen we produce, about 5-10 percent is liquid oxygen, usually produced when demanded, and that’s exactly what plants like ours give to the company. . “
Second oxygen plant to reopen this weekend
Vedanta is now set to reopen its second oxygen plant in a few days, which could double the smelter’s output to 30 tonnes of medical-grade liquid oxygen per day.
“Our first plant is completely stabilized in producing 30 MT of 99% pure liquid oxygen per day,” says Kumar. “On Sunday, we intend to restart our other plant, which will add an additional 30 MT. We will soon be supplying 70 MT to 80 MT of liquid oxygen per day to different states. “
Sterlite’s copper smelter has operated its oxygen plants under the watchful eye of the watchdog committee formed by the government of Tamil Nadu, given its turbulent history surrounding the alleged pollution and social unrest that has taken place around the foundry itself.
In May 2018, 13 protesters died in police gunfire while protesting against the Sterlite Copper operation. Various environmental groups have alleged that the presence and operation of the smelter caused cancer and respiratory illness to surrounding villagers.
This was one of the reasons why even the partial reopening of the foundry, even for the production of vital oxygen, was inevitably a challenge in itself.
“It took a while before we could convince the Center, the State and the judiciary that we are good at running the oxygen factories and giving free oxygen to people nearby who need it,” explains Kumar. “We had some difficulties with the approvals. , the state of the plant, in terms of finding the right people to operate the plant during a pandemic. I am grateful that after two weeks we are managing it comfortably and handling it well. ”