Sign up for NPL updates
Sign up for NPL updates

NPL and UKRI investment for innovation in time resilience, dissemination and application.
Funding of up to £4.7 million available through joint initiative, call for applications now open.

COVID-19 response

Oxygen supply and sensors

Working with UK industry

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic there was concern over an adequate supply of oxygen for hospitals and care homes. The oxygen supply chain is from China and the US, so with restricted exports and increased demands the UK was exploring other sources. Shortfalls could potentially have been met by using other grades of oxygen, subject to appropriate validation which NPL could support, or by investigating the feasibility of other methods of oxygen production, such as electrolysis of water.

There were also challenges getting oxygen to the new, temporary COVID-19 hospital beds which were not on the existing network of oxygen supply. This recurred in subsequent waves of the pandemic and in developing countries, and portable devices were considered to provide oxygen. NPL consulted with key suppliers to offer support and expertise.

Ventilators require an oxygen sensor to check that the concentration of oxygen in the oxygen/air gas mixture is correct. During the pandemic the supply chain for conventional sensors was exhausted and alternatives were required. NPL developed the concept of a novel electrochemical sensor based on a miniature fuel cell, which had the advantage of not requiring batteries and could be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than current sensors.

NPL has a longstanding relationship with Bramble Energy, a fuel cell manufacturer, who were approached by NPL to produce a miniature oxygen sensor. NPL supported Bramble in its bid for funding from Innovate UK and Bramble worked with NPL’s ventilator team to use this sensor in their novel design.   

If you would like to discuss further, please contact us.

Contact us

Impact during COVID-19

  • Developed new, low cost, oxygen sensor for ventilators with the potential to be used in other applications
  • Suppored deployment of ventilators in hospitals

NPL has a broad range of related activities

Work with us

Our research and measurement solutions support innovation and product development. We work with companies to deliver business advantage and commercial success.
Contact our Customer Services team on +44 20 8943 7070