Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe is well on its way to becoming one of the biggest exporters of medical oxygen in the region, President Mnangagwa said last week, referring to the increased production at the multi-million-dollar medical oxygen and industrial gas plant built by Verify Engineering at Feruka near Mutare.
Boosting local production and exports are cornerstones of the Second Republic’s industrialisation drive.
Speaking after commissioning three innovation projects at the University of Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa said the oxygen plant was evidence that local scientists, engineers and technicians could make immense contributions to the success of the National Development Strategy’s aim to retool and improve the capacity of the country’s industry to meet world standards.
“When Covid-19 struck, there were many who said Zimbabwe would suffer and people will die. We used to get our oxygen from BOC gases, but when we wanted to buy this medical oxygen, they would say you have to go into the queue to get your order.
“I told those at the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development to assemble some scientists who can help produce this medical oxygen and now they are producing it.
“As a country, we consume 150 tonnes of medical oxygen per month and yet our plant produces that 150 tonnes per week. So the other three weeks is surplus,” he said.
Since other countries still had the idea that medical oxygen produced by Africans was not good enough, he had offered the surplus to Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia, who were getting it at affordable prices.
Medical oxygen is important for patients of illnesses that produce breathing problems, and this was more apparent at the height of Covid-19 when demand more than doubled.
Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira said the plant in Mutare had the capacity to meet the peak national demand for medical oxygen.
“The peak demand of 150 tonnes was determined during the Covid-19 period. Currently, Verify Engineering has been awarded a tender to supply medical oxygen in three provinces in Mozambique and they are building infrastructure to start supplying,” he said.
Verify Engineering is a Government-owned private limited company formed in April 2005 and operates under the Harare Institute of Technology, which itself falls under the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.
At inception, the company was mandated to implement a project of producing liquid fuels and chemicals from coal.
It has now been given a new mandate under the Education 5.0 model which is in line with the vision of the Ministry to focus on heritage-based science and technology innovations in order to boost industrialisation.
Verify Engineering is a vehicle that aims at contributing to the broader national industrialisation agenda through commercialisation of technologies and is answering to the call of research, innovation and industrialisation.
The businesses being built and commissioned are key to national economic development and self-sufficiency in terms of all liquid fuels, industrial gases, fertilisers, energy and a wide range of chemicals.
Verify Engineering chief executive Engineer Pedzisai Tapfumaneyi said the plant was ready to produce at its capacity of 50 tonnes of medical oxygen a day.
In terms of quality, the WHO regulations demand that medical oxygen reach 95 percent purity levels. \However, in Zimbabwe, the regulations of the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe set 99,6 percent purity for medical oxygen.
“We were commissioned in August 2021, but we only began to supply medical oxygen in January 2022 as we were working towards satisfying the regulations of the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe in terms of the purity of our oxygen, which is world class.
“We are currently producing on demand because Zimbabwe only needs 150 tonnes per month so we can actually produce that within a week.
“What we are doing now is that we are installing four medical oxygen tanks in Beira, Chimoio and Tete. By the end of the first quarter in 2023, we should start supplying pure oxygen to those hospitals,” he said.
Besides supplying oxygen in hospitals, Verify Engineering is also looking to supply industries in Manica province and the northern parts of Mozambique with liquid oxygen.
Mozambique has a growing mining and manufacturing industry which is pushing the country’s demand for oxygen.
While most companies are currently importing their oxygen from South Africa, Zimbabwe is a better choice for them as Mutare is closer thus making Zimbabwe’s liquid oxygen cheaper.
Eng Tapfumaneyi said the local mining and manufacturing industries were also big consumers of liquid oxygen from Mutare.
Verify has the capacity to produce 16 tonnes of liquid oxygen daily and the pace at which uptake by local industries was increasing, they will reach maximum supply by the middle of next year when capacity can be increased.
Verify also produces acetylene (ethyne) gas for industrial use and about 30 tonnes of gaseous oxygen which was being used by all non-bulk users.
“The major raw materials needed in infrastructure development are steel, liquid oxygen and acetylene gas. In the past, the country only had one supplier and this was resulting in increasing prices.
“Now that we are a competitor, prices have stabilised and this will contribute to infrastructure development in terms of metal fabrication,” Eng Tapfumaneyi said.
“In medical oxygen, we have complimented the production that was available from other suppliers and ensured that the country does not need to import any more but can become self-sufficient,” he said.