Innovation: lightweight oxygen generator

Monday 5th December 2011
David Foster from Cambridge Design Partnership. Courtesy:

A lightweight oxygen generator, developed to save lives on the frontline has won the award for Best Collaboration in the category of Defence and Security at The Engineer Technology and Innovation Awards 2011 for Cambridge Design Partnership, in conjunction with the Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE).

The joint prize was awarded to Cambridge Design Partnership and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (Dstl) Centre for Defence Enterprise for their collaborative efforts in creating a product designed to solve the safety and logistical barriers to using oxygen cylinders on the military battlefield.

The CDE acts as an interface for design and engineering firms in the free market to supply innovative solutions to the military. Cambridge Design Partnership responded to a call by The CDE to come up with a solution that would enable the military to safely transport and administer oxygen on the frontline. The result was the lightweight oxygen generator.

The concentrator works by cycling air pressure in chambers filled with a gas absorbing substance, atmospheric oxygen can then be concentrated to 95% purity. The unit can run on a variety of fuels including diesel. It’s lightweight and compact nature means that it is ideally suited for the unpredictable environment of a battlefield.

Earlier in the year Cambridge Design Partnership consultant  Stephen Lamb and his team demonstrating the prototype system were confident they could miniaturise the system further. He said: “Despite strong evidence emerging that forward oxygen deployment can improve survival rates after blast injury, casualties are usually without oxygen before being evacuated by helicopter.

“This is because frontline personnel may not have access to vehicle support and the pressurised oxygen cylinders are heavy to transport and vulnerable to ballistic threats. Although there are portable oxygen generators available these are very power hungry and require heavy batteries. At CDP, one of our core strengths is miniaturising technology to make it portable. Our concept is based around a lightweight oxygen generator with an integral micro diesel engine.

“The solution is a compact, lightweight and safe source of oxygen which can run for hours on a small quantity of fuel. There is also the potential to use the compact engine as an electrical power source to reduce the battery burden of dismounted soldiers, which can be as high as 11kg.”

A panel of expert judges deliberated on criteria such as the degree of technical innovation involved in the entry; the value added to the entry through the collaboration between partners and the actual or potential impact of the entry on its market or end-users.

“This award stands as recognition for the hard work undertaken by the Cambridge Design Partnership team in conjunction with the Centre for Defence Enterprise,” comments David Foster from Cambridge Design Partnership. “

The CDE is a great example of a British institution helping to foster the kind of innovation found in forward-looking design firms. In the oxygen generator we’ve created something that has the potential to save a great many lives: This innovation would not have been possible without the clear guidance and collaboration of the CDE.”

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