The first African large scale methane gas extraction project in Rwanda

The Lake Kivu project will reduce dangerous levels of methane gas and generate electricity for millions

Lake Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes that lies on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is in the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the East African Rift. Lake Kivu has a huge methane gas quantity, stretching over 2,370 kilometers squared (915 miles squared) and plunging  to some 485 meters (1,590 feet) deep, the lake Kivu holds some 60 billion cubic meters (2,118 billion cubic feet) of dissolved methane gas, and some 300 billion cubic meters (10,594 billion feet) of carbon dioxide.

The methane gas is formed from a mixture of geological and biological processes, due to uncommon stratification, and being at the deeper levels where there is absence of oxygen hence the lake functions as a vast digester and produces the methane gas using the nutrients available in the lake after it is dissolved into water.  The natural gas is a fossil fuel formed when layers of buried plants and gases are exposed to intense heat and pressure over thousands of years. The natural gas is mainly composed of 70% methane (CH4), 20% Ethane (C2H6), Propane (C3H8) and Butane (C4H10), 8% Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and smaller amounts of Oxygen (O2) Nitrogen (N2), Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) and rare gases. Africa has three famous lakes that possess dangerous gases  which  can explode at any time, two concrete tragedy cases have already happened in Cameroon in 1984, Lake Monoun exploded in a limnic eruption, which resulted in the release of a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that killed 37 people, and later in 1986, there was a tremendous explosion of CO2 from the lake Nyos, West Cameroon, killed around 1800 people and livestock up to 25 km away from the Lake.

Due to the high methane gas volume in Lake Kivu, the Government of Rwanda has decided to step up in this large-scale methane gas extraction from the waters of Lake Kivu and use the gas to generate electricity that will be sold to the Rwanda electricity utility and it will be added to the national grid power sources. KivuWatt project was awarded to contourglobal— A US based company with expertise in managing big power plants projects all over the world with 41 power plants in their current portfolio, and 36 power plants are currently operating with a combined installed gross capacity of approximately 3,145 MW.  Countourglobal has signed a 25-year Gas Concession Agreement with the Government of Rwanda, and a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement with the Rwanda Energy Group (REG)­— Former Energy Water and Sanitation (EWSA). Counterglobal has invested up to US $198 million to reach the first pilot phase, and Counterglobal will be given a full power to sell the electricity yield from the extraction.

The crucial moment has come at the end of May 2015 when a barge was installed onto Lake Kivu  in 14 Km from the cost in Karongi district in the Western province of Rwanda, to start the extraction of the methane gas.  This was achieved after a lot of work over the past 6 yerars and the project is not about to start operations. Phase one will generate 25 MW at the end of  July and if everything goes well as expected the three more remaining  phases will follow to yield 100 MW in total. KivuWatt will be a solution for two million people living around the Lake scared of a sudden explosion threat and will create jobs for the population working with Counterglobal. This methane gas power plant will be the first in Africa to be extracted and produced on a large scale.

Methane gas leaks as a project critic

As a major component of the natural gas, methane gas also contribute to greenhouses emissions. According to the Environment Defense Fund (EDF) published paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), emissions result from leaks and during the production, processing and transportation of natural gas predominantly composed of methane. There are numerous individual components used throughout natural gas systems that are prone to leaks, including compressors, valves, pumps, flanges, gauges and pipe connectors, among others. In addition to unintentional leaks number of sources intentionally vent gas.  Additionally, gas is often vented from storage tanks, dehydrators, depressurizing equipment before maintenance and wells after hydraulic fracturing or when liquids are removed.

A project like KivuWatt needs a lot of diligence and careful monitoring - a single error could be a source of negative impact to the project implementation. However, it is very important to notice the positive impact, especially in power generation will be a great benefit to Rwanda. Scientists and engineers suggest a number of preventive strategies to avoid such emissions that can lead to the global warming; a constant pipeline inspection must be established on a regular basis, this ensures proper and secure transportation. The government expects KivuWatt to contribute on the national grid, as the government target is to increase the power capacity produced from the current 156 MW production to 563 MW by 2018.

Will KivuWatt project be so beneficial to Rwanda? Please let us know what you think in your comments below.