Reposted from Kuensel
By Yangchen C Rinzin
In the dusty and scorching industrial estate at Pasakha, about 15km from Phuentsholing, is a factory unlike others at the estate. Heavy trucks carrying raw materials never roll into its parking lot. Only end products are transported.
The only raw material it uses is the air, and the products sold are oxygen and nitrogen, filled in high-pressure cylinders or specials tanks.
Outside the factory it is quiet, with no muffled sounds of machinery coming out. Once in a while, a hissing sound disturbs the peace, and the clanking sound of cylinders being loaded follows. Inside, the sound gets boisterous, but not as noisy as the other factories at the estate.
The Qualified Gases private limited factory has a clean look, with no hot furnace burning coals. No smoke billow from the roof. The technical team at the factory said it’s the most simple and pollution-free factory at the estate.
“It doesn’t require burning of raw materials, which release harmful gases into the air,” plant engineer HB Das said.
The gases are captured from the atmosphere through a device located outside the factory, called an air filter.
“21.95 percent of oxygen and 78 percent of nitrogen are captured by the filter,” HB Das explained.
The filter is connected to the air compressor inside the factory, which is a pipeline running through a water tank, designed to compress air.
“From the compressor, the air passes through a purifier, where moisture and carbon dioxide are absorbed,” HB Das said. “After purification, the air is liquefied, and then the liquefied air goes to a distillation column, where nitrogen and oxygen are separated.”
The oxygen and nitrogen go to individual storage tanks outside the factory. From the tanks, oxygen is pumped out through a pipe to fill cylinders, while liquid nitrogen and oxygen are filled into a tanker designed for liquid gas.
The idea to start the factory struck Jamyang Loden, managing director of the company, in 2006. His interest was fuelled by a friend in India, who works for a gases production company.
Jamyang Loden, a Class X graduate, found his opportunity when, in 2008, businessmen started to establish factories at Pasakha. “With the hydropower projects and industries that were coming up, I saw an opportunity to make my idea materialise,” Jamyang Loden said.
In November 2008, Jamyang Loden started the company, which until now is the only one producing and supplying oxygen and nitrogen gases to both the local market, and to a niche market in India.
“Initially, it was difficult, because the market within the country was small, and factories were still being set up,” he said. “It was only in 2011, that business started picking up, with orders coming in from industries, which were by then set up, from the hospitals, and others in the local market.”
Jamyang had, by then, also established a partnership in India. “I realised it wasn’t easy to run a company alone, so I decided to have a partnership by means of foreign direct investment (FDI),” he said.
Else, he said, in 2009 and 2010, the company couldn’t even pay bank interest, salary and other utility bills.
Today, the company has been able to fulfill shortfall of oxygen in hospitals, and nitrogen and oxygen to local industries. “The gases we supply are of standard quality and medically certified,” Jamyang Loden said. The gases were certified by the Drug Regulatory Authority.
“Frequent strikes and road blocks in India affected oxygen supply at the hospitals,” he said. “There were many incidences, where oxygen had run out and the supply was yet to reach them.”
With a local supplier, hospitals were able to receive oxygen on time.
The industries, he said, felt the need after factories were established and gases were not readily available. “This helped our business pick up,” the managing director said.
Every day, the company produce 3,000 cylinders of oxygen and nitrogen, which would, if converted into liquid, be about 24,000 litres.
Of the 3,000, about 350 cylinders are supplied to ministry of health, Pasakha industries and others in the local market.
The gases are filled inside 1,485 cylinders purchased from China, Belgium and India, and are supplied as and when demanded in three to four hours. “These cylinders, costing about Nu 8,000 to Nu 9,000 and bought since the company started, are still rotating within and outside the country, because it can be refilled and reused,” the managing director said.
Nitrogen exported was used mostly by veterinary hospitals as a preservative for semen, and is mostly exported to North Bengal animal husbandry and to Bihar, India. “Industries in Bhutan use nitrogen too, but very less; instead more oxygen is used for wielding, lighting furnace, automobile repairing, denting of vehicles,” a technical staff said.
The oxygen that goes to hospitals is mainly used during medical treatment in both chronic and acute diseases. While oxygen is preferred in the gas form, most of the nitrogen is converted into liquid and sold in India. Oxygen has a market in Bhutan and India.
In terms of success, Jamyang Loden said, the company has been able to achieve 55-65 percent of its total production only. “The market inside still remains small, only 25 percent of what is produced is sold here,” he said.
“What we’ve tapped in the Indian market is small. We face problem in tendering quotation in India, because of political influences. Sometimes, we’re disallowed to enter the market.”
With a number of hydropower constructions in the pipeline, the managing director said the gases factory could do better in future.
Photo Credit: Kuensel