Rwanda's Government Turns Deadly Methane Lake Into a Natural Gas Power Source

Plans are in place to pump out gas and carbon dioxide from Lake Kivu in Rwanda to reduce chances of a natural disaster and use as a power source.
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Plans are in place to pump out gas and carbon dioxide from Lake Kivu in Rwanda to reduce chances of a natural disaster and use as a power source.

Lake Kivu sits on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but this isn't a lake you want to be swimming in. The lake, which is 1590 feet deep and 915 square miles wide, contains a deadly amount of methane gas (2118 billion cubic feet) and carbon dioxide (10,594 billion cubic feet). Rwanda currently has plans to turn the lake around by using the gas as a power source, and possibly saving many lives in the process. 

There is worry that the dangerous combination of methane and CO2 could cause what experts are calling a "catastrophic" natural disaster. If the mix of dissolved gases is disturbed, it would cause a limnic eruption, or a lake overturn. This could result in an explosion, which would cause large waves of CO2 and suffocate people and animals in surrounding areas.

Matthew Yalire, a researcher at the Goma Volcano Observatory, says extracting the methane from the lake would help to stabilize it. If they are unsuccessful, an eruption would put two million people in danger. 

 A pilot project is currently underway, producing about two megawatts of electricity from the methane. A new plant is being built on the eastern shore of Kivu, where US-based ContourGlobal hopes to boost production.

"Our team is focused on extracting methane from the lake to generate electricity that will expand household access to power, lower costs, and reduce environmental hazards," ContourGlobal told PhysOrg.

The company's $200 million project, called KivuWatt, aims to reduce the threat of danger and turn the gases into energy and, ultimately, profit.

The process involves gas being pumped from the lower parts of the lake, where there is more methane saturation. When the water reaches the surface, the gases are released and separated. The methane is sent to the plant and the CO2 is dissolved once again and is put back into the depths of the lake. The lake's structure, flora and fauna will go untouched.

Rwanda's government has a goal of tripling their current access to electricity from 18 percent to 70 percent by 2017.