Rwanda government has entered into a $USD 400M agreement with Rwandan registered Gasmeth Energy to extract and process methane gas from Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu in Rwanda has been documented to harbour huge amount of poisonous yet useful methane gas. Estimates of around 55 billion cubic meters of naturally occurring methane gas are found below the lake.
The resource has remained untapped for fear over safety of inhabitants until now. While tapping the resource for commercial use has been one issue, the general fear that the lake would one day erupt causing massive losses has been an issue thought over and over again as removing Kivu’s methane may prevent a possible catastrophe.
Lake Kivu lies in the volcanic region on Rwanda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Geologists have continuously warned that Lake Kivu will eventually experience an overun, a catastrophic phenomenon also known as a limnic eruption.
Dangerous methane gas lying on the Lake Kivu bed
While seismic and geological surveys have been ongoing on the lake, there has been growing fear that if the pressure of the gases in a lake exceeds the pressure of the water at a given depth, it can cause violent release of gas and water.
Similar event happened in Lake Nyos in Cameroon on 1986. Without warning, the lake released hundreds of thousands of tonnes of toxic carbon dioxide, suffocating an estimated 1,746 people and more than 3,500 livestock within minutes.
The cloud of carbon dioxide, which burst from the lake along with a 100-meter fountain of water, spread as far as 25 kilometers from shore in one of the global eeriest disasters.
The fear with Lake Kivu is that it contains a thousand times more gas than Nyos. And now, the governments of Rwanda and that of DR Congo have had sort of a hurry to ensure they can avert a future catastrophe at the same time ensure they tap the economic benefits of methane gas, lying under the lake.
Power capacity of Lake Kivu
The total power generation potential of the resource has been conservatively estimated at more than 500 MW over a 40-year period. Only 25 Megawatts is produced today.
There are at least two companies already working on the lake. KivuWatt, a $200 million project owned by the U.S. energy firm Contour Global as well as another U.S. company Symbion Power.
For KivuWatt, the first phase of this project is powering three gensets to produce 26 MW of electricity for the local grid. The next phase of this project will deploy nine additional gensets at 75 MW to create a total capacity of over 100 MW for this high-growth country.
The Gas Extraction Facility (GEF), located 13km from the shore and tethered to the bottom of the lake, extracts gas by bringing gas-laden waters from 35 bars to 2 bars of pressure via a gas separator where gas bubbles are extracted from the water.
Raw gas is then washed in four wash towers, ultimately producing clean methane gas. This gas is transported to the power plant through a pipeline and at the power plant, combustion engines generate electricity to be supplied to the Rwanda energy grid.
The second project by Symbion Power plans to export 56 MW of electricity into the Rwandan network under a 25-year concession while KP1 will increase its production from 3.6 MW to 25 MW, which will be delivered to the Rwandan network as part of a separate 25-year concession.
A third one is now in the offing. Rwanda government has announced that it has entered into an agreement with Rwandan registered Gasmeth Energy to extract and process methane gas from Lake Kivu.
Gasmeth Energy plans to finance, construct and maintain a gas extraction, processing and compression project. The project will include a gas extraction plant on Lake Kivu, where Gasmeth Energy will extract and separate methane gas from water and thereafter transport it to an onshore plant where they will compress it.
The compressed natural gas will be distributed on both the local and international market.
The over USD $400 million project aims to generate employment for between 600-800 people during the construction phase. The Gasmeth Energy project will have 400 employees after construction.
The RDB Chief Executive Officer, Clare Akamanzi, said the natural gas produced by the plant will help reduce the use of wood and charcoal as a cooking fuel as well as diesel fuel in the automotive industry.
The deep water of Lake Kivu contains dissolved methane and carbon dioxide. These gases pose a serious risk to all the oxygen dependent life in the vicinity of the lake as they continue to build up. However, methane gas also provides an energy resource valued at billions of dollars for the Kivu region.
“We therefore welcome the Gasmeth Energy project because not only will it reduce the risk of a methane gas explosion, it will also provide jobs, reduce Rwanda’s natural gas import bill, increase gas exports and provide cleaner cooking fuel for Rwandans” Akamanzi said.