Companies Step Up to Meet Rising Ventilator Demand, Energy Needs for Hospitals

With coronavirus infections still increasing, the supply of ventilators for patients is falling short. Companies including Co-Vents and Bloom Energy are working non-stop to meet demand and also helping field hospitals keep the life-saving machinery running with clean microgrid power.

 

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Image credit: Bloom Energy

 

Bloom Energy is acting on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s call to assist in the battle against the novel coronavirus by refurbishing out-of-service ventilators and using its energy expertise to provide rapid microgrids to temporary medical facilities.

The San Jose, CA-based energy company traditionally manufactures fuel cells but has converted its operations to refurbish ventilators for use in hospitals. In March, the state of California sent Bloom Energy 24 out-of-date ventilators remaining from the H5N1 bird flu pandemic. The Bloom Energy industrial engineering team got to work, and repaired them all in one day.

Now, after setting up an assembly line and using a second location in Delaware, Bloom Energy expects to refurbish 1,000 ventilators per week until ventilator manufacturers can catch up with the high demand. The adjustments include charging or replacing batteries, recalibrating sensors, and replacing broken parts. Ventilators in need of overly complex repairs are rejected. Bloom has teamed up with biomedical engineers from Stanford Health Care to evaluate the performance of the refurbished ventilators.

Powering Medical Tents

Bloom Energy is also supplying power to health care centers, including temporary medical tents and warehouses set up to provide overflow COVID-19 medical care. Bloom Energy microgrids operate independently of the regional energy grid and make electricity reliable and accessible for field hospitals. Each microgrid can supply energy to about 200 hospital beds. They can work independently or with existing generators and other distributed generation technologies.

Respiratory disease caused by COVID-19 requires clean air systems and traditional backups, such as diesel generators, create pollution and air quality issues that are harmful to patients. So hospitals are searching for low-pollution energy sources to minimize the respiratory impact on their coronavirus patients, particularly in field hospitals. By converting natural gas and renewable biogas into electricity without combustion, the amount of carbon dioxide released decreases by 50 percent, according to Bloom Energy. 

Emergency Power

After powering different facilities through 550 power outages across the US in 2018, the Bloom Energy microgrids have proven their efficiency. The current deployment for the Bloom technology came when Gov. Newsom announced in April that Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento would be transformed into a field hospital, capable of treating hundreds of overflow COVID-19 patients.

The arena itself already has a power supply, but the training facility next door did not have any backup power. The training facility has capacity for about 100 hospital beds, a significant supplement to the 200+ beds that would be based within the arena.

The Bloom team quickly got to work, installing a 400-kilowatt rapid-deploy microgrid adjacent to the arena. The microgrid solution was installed in record time (less than a week) and three days ahead of schedule, according to Bloom Energy.

In addition to the Sleep Train Arena project, Bloom also recently rapidly deployed a microgrid in  Vallejo, CA, at the site of a national hospital system. This rollout took only three days, which was five days ahead of schedule. Bloom’s Energy Servers were already powering the main hospital at the site, but the newly installed microgrid can supply primary power for a field hospital in the hospital’s parking lot to accommodate coronavirus patient overflow, if needed.

Ventilator Experts Unite

Another group recently formed to help with COVID-19 medical care is Co-Vents. The Carlsbad, CA-based organization was founded by five ventilator and pulmonary experts with experience designing, building, manufacturing, and selling ventilators. The non-profit organization is now locating, refurbishing, and distributing decommissioned ventilators. With a total of six FDA-approved and ISO-certified ventilator service centers in California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, and Tennessee, Co-Vents receives donations or buys retired ventilators from hospitals or health care centers to refurbish.

The ventilators are repaired following FDA guidelines, and turn-around time is about a week, according to the company. If a donated ventilator requires sophisticated repairs, the parts are salvaged for use on other devices.The ventilators then are recertified and sold to replenish national and state stockpiles.

Co-Vents received a $300,000 grant from a private foundation to purchase ventilators. This allows the non-profit to sell the machines at a fixed price to cover costs. In the next two months, Co-Vents hopes to refurbish as many as 2,500 life-saving ventilators, impacting 6,000-7,000 people, says co-founder Michael Raymer. Co-Vents hopes its efforts will fill the gap while new ventilator production ramps up.