Rwanda Project Converts Underwater Methane to Electricity
Lake Kivu, a large African lake bordering Rwanda, has a dual edge – the potential to create a life-threatening emission of methane gas, or to provide enough electricity to more than double Rwanda’s current production. If Contour Global succeeds with its ambitious power generation project, opportunity will outwit danger.
The possibility of an explosion of gas from beneath a lake, called a limnic eruption, horrified the world in 1986 when 1,700 people and over 3,000 livestock suffocated from a silent, deadly eruption of CO2 from Lake Nyos.
Contour Global, a private company that develops, acquires and operates electric power projects around the globe, focuses on high-growth, underserved markets like Rwanda, where over 90% of rural residents have no electricity. The company announced an agreement with the government of Rwanda March 2 to construct a $325 million facility to extract methane gas from 350 meters below the surface of the lake.
The entire 100 megawatts of capacity will be operational by 2012, with the initial 25 megawatts available in 2010. The gas extraction facility will be placed atop a huge barge and will separate the methane gas (CH4), the principal ingredient of natural gas, while returning the CO2 safely to the lake.
In addition to preventing a potential catastrophe similar to the Lake Nyos deaths, the project will bring much-needed electricity to underserved areas of some other East African counties - Uganda, Congo and Burundi. For residents near Lake Kivu, it brings the possibility of employment, with 200 jobs created, although some local fishermen and water carriers have expressed concern over how the project will affect their livelihoods.