Research has shown Lake Kivu's deep waters contain an estimated
65 billion cubic metres of methane, the equivalent of 50 million tonnes of petrol.
This reserve could supply Rwanda's energy needs for 400 years,
eliminating the need for wood burning,
the main source of energy at present.


Degassing the lake - as is being done for Lake Nyos -
is a viable and economically beneficial option.
"Riparian countries of the lake should investigate necessary resources
in order to make the degassing of Lake Kivu a reality".

When I was in Rwanda this past spring [June 2007] - during A WANDER IN RWANDA - I had the opportunity to talk to members of the Canadian contingent attending the 3-day International Investment Conference being held in Kigali. Most of these conversations would take place in the relaxed atmosphere of the shuttle-bus to and from the hotel where the Conference was being held. Two Canadians in particular had been coming to Rwanda for many years and were a goldmine of answers to questions I'd been wondering about.

I asked one of my fellow-travellers - when we passed people with big bumpy sacks on their back - what they were carrying and he said it was charcoal which was their main source of fuel for cooking and heating. I asked if it was the same type of charcoal I had seen being made in the foothills of the Virunga Volcano mountains when I was in Rwanda last year [July 2006] doing DESTINY DESTINATION RWANDA.

Volcanoes Behind Huts Old & New

At that time I had learned that charcoal comes from trees which are burned slowly in deep holes in the ground, until the wood has turned solid black. The wood is then broken into pieces and the pieces are what the people use as fuel for their cooking stoves.

Jackie Cooking Jackie Water Vegetables


I wondered if wood was the entire source of charcoal or if they also used the type of charcoal we use in Canada which is made of coal. He explained that ALL charcoal is made from burned wood - not from coal, the rock - but that in Canada we have so much more wood that making charcoal is far less of a problem. WOW, you learn something new every day. Here I'd been thinking all these years that the charcoal we burned on the BBQ back home was made of coal.

Anyhow, this discussion about the making of charcoal then led into a discussion about the lack of wood in Rwanda and how precious and therefore expensive charcoal was.

This then led into a discussion about how we'd both read that Lake Kivu - the huge lake along the west side of Rwanda's border with the Congo - is a GOLDMINE of methane gas which, if extracted, could provide all the heat and electricity and cooking fuel the whole country could ever use and from which they could make millions of dollars exporting.

Map Rwanda

We wondered why this had never yet been done, thinking as we did that all a person really needed to do (probably) was bang a pipe through to the bottom of the lake - where the gas is laying - and suck it up like oil.

Then later, when we (my son, his friend and our driver) were travelling from Cyangugu along the KIVU ROAD TO KIBUYE to the KIVU VIEW MOTEL, I asked Oliver - our expert on all things Rwandan - why the lake had never been harnessed for its methane gas.

Kivu View

He said some of the gas WAS being extracted - in Gisenyi - a lakeside town I'd been to last year:

B & J Lake Kivi Beach Boys

He said Gisenyi is where the company that made the national beer - Primus - came from, and they used methane gas to fire their plant. But he didn't know why there wasn't a major gas extracting production going on there either.

Then I told him that I had read on-line a couple of months ago - in the New Times or All Africa newspapers - how the methane gas in the bottom of Lake Kivu is actually very dangerous and should be extracted to relieve the pressure - so it doesn't "blow" some day.

The article I'd read had said that it was actually a miracle that when the Volcano in Goma, Congo (just across the lake from Rwanda at Gisenyi) erupted in 2002 (on the same day Lumumba died in 1961) its lava didn't reach Lake Kivu:

Goma Bike Goma Church

Goma Women Goma Volcano

If the lava HAD reached Lake Kivu, its heat would have ignited the methane and Rwanda would have been literally blown to "high heaven" and it may be just a matter of time before another volcano erupts and its lava DOES reach Lake Kivu. All the more reason to get rid of the gas and do it in a hurry.

The closing line in the article was a quote from a life-long fisherman of Lake Kivu who said "I'm on this lake every day, but I don't trust it".

Kivu Guitar

We concluded our conversation about the potential dangers of Lake Kivu by saying that it was about time some gas-drilling experts came and started drilling for methane in Rwanda - making everyone safe and rich.

Now, in today's news [Aug 2007*], there's another article about Lake Kivu and its gas problem (or make that 'solution') and how if the methane were extracted it would fuel Rwanda for 400 years. It begs the question "Why hasn't this been done and when WILL it be done?" ~ Jackie Jura

Rwanda told: Tap the killer gas, East African, Aug 31, 2009
Rwanda should start exploiting its huge methane deposits at the Lake Kivu right away, or cancel it altogether due to the high risks involved. According to scientists drawn from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, there lurks a serious hazard in the depths of the lake as over 250 billion cubic metres of carbon dioxide and 55 billion cubic metres of methane are dissolved in the deep waters. Research indicates that the methane gas concentrations have been increasing with a rise of over 20 per cent over the past 30 years. The appreciation is attributable to a huge increase in nutrient inputs associated with population growth around the lake. "If the gas concentrations continue to increase or a severe disruption occurs, the situation could change rapidly. Large bubbles of gas could rise to the surface triggering a chain reaction that could lead to a massive gas eruption," says Prof Alfred Wüest, head of the surface waters department at the Institute. The scientists say the release of a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane gases could have catastrophic consequences for the heavily populated shores of Lake Kivu, where an estimated two million people live. This could suffocate them leading to deaths. In 1986, a disaster of this kind occurred on Lake Nyos in Cameroon, with more 1800 people dying after a gas eruption. Lying between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Lake Kivu is said to have huge potential for the country’s much needed energy supply. To avert the imminent deaths and meet the current power shortage in the country, the Rwandan government now plans to exploit the gas reserves for electricity generation. According to the country’s Minister for Energy Dr Albert Butare, the grand energy project will generate over 250 million cubic metres of methane per year. Dr Butare says Rwanda will be partnering with DRC on the exploitation of methane. This, he says, will help the two countries exploit the full potential of the deposit, which stands at 55 billion litres. The value of the gas reserves is currently estimated by experts at around $14.3 billion. "Our negotiations with DRC are progressing well. Once we strike a deal, we will be able to generate more than 200MW in a year," Dr Butare told the East African Community investment conference held in Nairobi recently. He said that the government was in the process of signing a number of agreements with foreign and local investors to extract the gas. Currently, the country is carrying out two pilot projects expected to generate 50MW of power.

In March, Rwanda entered into an agreement with a New York-based ContourGlobal to develop the lake’s gas project. The deal, worth $325 million, will add an additional 100MW of electricity to the country where only about five per cent of the population are connected to the national grid. Worse is the fact that the prices are twice as high as those of other East African nations because of the inadequate supply. "Lake Kivu possesses a unique methane gas held in solution deep within the lake water. This gas can be harvested for power generation. Extracting the gas will greatly mitigate the environmental hazards associated with a natural release of the lake gases," Joseph Brandt, president and chief executive officer of ContourGlobal said. According to Mr Brandt, ContourGlobal will construct and operate a platform-based gas extraction system that will be moored off the Rwandan coast. The gas will be processed and transported by pipeline to the firm’s power plant being developed in Kibuye, Rwanda. Analysts say the modern technology being used by ContourGlobal in the methane extraction will greatly reduce the dangers associated with it. They say that once a pipe extended into the depths of the lake is installed, water will rise spontaneously. At the surface, the water will evaporate, separating methane from carbon dioxide. "ContourGlobal has been designing and developing the project for two years and has conducted extensive seabed surveys and methane gas sampling in the lower depths of the Lake. The project will be constructed in two phases with the first phase of 25MW becoming operational in 2010 and the second phase of 75MW going into operation in 2012,” he said. Prof Wüest says it makes sense to use the gas for energy, especially if the risk of an eruption can be reduced at the same time. But even as the Rwanda government plans for the epic energy source, poised to be the only one of its kind in the world, scientists are raising a number of issues which could be a controversy to the grand energy project. One of them concerns the depth at which the degassed water should be returned to the lake so as to prevent disruption of the stratification. Also under debate is whether at least some of the carbon dioxide can be piped back into the deep water, so that greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere from methane exploitation are kept to a minimum.

Rwanda explores ways of boosting its energy needs. Kenya East African, Jan 10, 2009
...Though electricity supply is currently stable without any significant load-shedding, only 10.2 per cent of the country’s households are connected to the national grid. Only 6 per cent of Rwanda’s population is connected to electricity and the country projects that by 2020, at least 35 per cent of the population will be connected while the consumption of wood will decrease from the current 94 per cent to 50 per cent of national energy consumption. According to Electrogaz, the utility institution in charge of distribution of electricity, power supply only reaches around 110,000 clients, including 70,000 households. Electrogaz statistics show that 70 per cent of the energy is consumed in the capital, Kigali.... The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, while releasing its Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategic projections last year, said the overall target of the government is to increase the total capacity from 45 MW to 130 MW by 2012. The Lake Kivu methane gas reserve project is expected to produce 30 MW of energy by the end of this month....

LAKE KIVU CHAMPAGNE EFFECT (reader is writing MSc thesis on the Methane extraction project)

Kivu Methane Pump A Dangerous Treasure in Africa's Lake Kivu, by Simone Schlindwein, Spiegel, Dec 23, 2008

Rwanda's methane gas dream realized!. New Times, Nov 8, 2008
AT LAST the Methane Gas Plant in Lake Kivu, Rubavu District was officially launched on Thursday. Finally, Rwanda’s dream of generating electricity out of methane gas has been realised with the first 1.8 megawatts channelled to the national grid. So far, the power extracted from Lake Kivu can supply the whole of Rubavu District or more. “This is a memorable day in the history of this country; we have finally succeeded in extracting methane gas that has been in this lake for thousands of years and today Rwandans are consuming electricity generated from it,” State Minister for Energy Eng. Albert Butare said excitedly at the mini-launch of the pilot methane gas plant in Rubavu district. He revealed that the Government was in the process of signing several agreements with foreign and local investors to extract the gas. Butare also said the history behind the idea of extracting the gas, saying that it was championed by President Paul Kagame in 2002 when he instructed the extraction of the ‘very valuable and useful’ gas. He explained that several procedures were followed until June last year when the final operation of setting up the extraction plant kicked off. “That is when we signed the agreement with an Israeli company that started working on the progress of the project. On May 15 this year, we successfully extracted the first gas from the lake,” he explained. Butare added that in May, the extracted gas was not very clean by international standards because of the machines that were being used, “but still, it was a credit worthy celebration.” He added that some people thought Rwanda’s methane gas extraction would affect the lake “but we did it and maintained the safety of the lake as well.” Related to the above, Butare revealed that there is an American investor who has finalised getting the necessary requirements, including environmental impact assessment, allowing him to extract about 100 megawatts. Meanwhile, government has established a group of experts to monitor the generation of gas in the lake. According to Butare, the same team will monitor the different companies that will be involved in extracting the gas. The Director General of Electrogaz, a public utility for production, transmission and distribution of Water and Electricity in Rwanda, John Mirenge, confirmed that the electricity generated from Methane gas had been channelled to the company’s electricity network. “Very important to note is that electricity costs will automatically fall after a fully fledged project comes to life,” Mirenge said.

A methane pipe dream in Rwanda (100-megawatt plant on Lake Kivu). National Post, Jun 10, 2008

Rwanda looks to lake for energy fix. BBC, Jun 2, 2008
...The Rwandan government is funding a pilot methane extraction project on Lake Kivu. A consortium called the Rwanda Investment Group (RIG) is currently eyeing this effort in the hope of setting up a seven-megawatt power plant...

Rwanda puts hopes in methane power plant. Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2008

Reader is confused about who gets the contract to extract Lake Kivu's methane gas

Engineers rise to Rwandan methane extraction challenge. Engineer Live, Feb 6, 2008
For a number of years, engineers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) have been taking a close interest in Lake Kivu in East Africa. Their concern is focused on the hazard posed by billions of cubic metres of gases dissolved in the deep waters. In a project sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the engineers are trying to harness a two-fold benefit from this methane resource: ensuring secure power supplies in the region for decades and reducing the risk of a deadly gas eruption....Despite the idyllic setting, however, there lurks a serious hazard in the depths of the lake: approximately 250-billion-m3 of carbon dioxide and 55-billion-m3 of methane are dissolved in the water. In recent years, the Eawag researchers have shown that the gas concentrations are increasing, with a rise of up to 20 percent since the 1970s in the case of methane. At present, the gas remains dissolved in the bottom layers as a result of the high water pressure at this depth and the extremely stable stratification of the lake, which means that exchanges between the bottom and surface waters are very limited. However, if gas concentrations continue to increase or if a severe disruption occurred – following a volcanic eruption or a major earthquake, for example – the situation could change rapidly. Large quantities of gas bubbles could rise to the surface, triggering a chain reaction that could lead to a massive gas eruption. The release of a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane gases could have catastrophic consequences on the densely populated shores of Lake Kivu, where roughly two million people live. Hundreds of thousands could be asphyxiated. In 1986, a disaster of this kind occurred on Lake Nyos in Cameroon, with 1800 people dying after a gas eruption.

The Rwandan government now plans to exploit the gas reserves in Lake Kivu for power generation. It recently awarded the South African engineering company Murray & Roberts a contract to construct a power station. This pilot project is to be initiated in early 2008. The principle is simple: if a pipe extending into the depths of the lake is installed, water rises spontaneously as a result of the gas bubbles forming in the pipe. At the surface, the water effervesces – like carbonated water from a bottle that has been shaken before being opened. The methane then has to be separated from the carbon dioxide before it can be used. Professor Alfred Wüest, head of the surface waters department at Eawag, points out: “It makes sense to use the gas, especially if the risk of an eruption can thereby be reduced at the same time. But because nobody knows exactly how the lake will respond to this extraction, even small-scale pilot studies have to be performed and monitored extremely carefully.” Wüest and his team have been requested by the Rwandan government and the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment (NCEIA) to oversee the planning of methane recovery on Lake Kivu. Several workshops involving international experts have already been held to establish a framework that will ensure that the stability of stratification and the ecology of the lake are closely monitored.

Lake Kivu lies on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at an altitude of almost 1500 metres above sea level. Covering an area of about 2400-km2, it has a maximum depth of 500-metres. Worldwide, only two other lakes are known to harbour similar quantities of gases – Lakes Monoun and Nyos in Cameroon. In both of these cases, however, carbon dioxide predominates; the quantities of methane are much too small for exploitation to be worthwhile...

Rift Valley Great Rift Valley

Congo & Rwanda hit by 2 deadly quakes (6.0 and 5.0 respectively). BBC Feb 3, 2008

USA to extract Rwanda methane gas. New Times, Jan 18, 2008
Sources in the Ministry of Infrastructure have disclosed that ContourGlobal may soon acquire the rights from government to extract methane gas from Lake Kivu. If given a go ahead, ContourGlobal would produce up to 100 megawatts of electricity....Currently, Rwanda needs more electricity to meet the high demand due to service its fast growth and developing sectors. With its current electricity peak load of 50MW, the country can’t satisfy its power demands. Its hydroelectricity is only 35 percent of this peak load, while the remaining 65 percent is thermal energy. With a target to have a 150MW electricity peak load in 2012, the country needs to produce at least 100MW more. That is the reason why the government wants to have methane gas on Lake Kivu extracted. Nyirahuku said that government is interested in companies that can invest in methane gas extraction and have a tariff proposal of selling electricity at 6 cents (of US dollars) per kilowatt. Last month, Lake Kivu Energy (Canada) Inc., one of the companies that had signed a MoU with government, exited without the company accomplishing any of its commitments. Nyirahuku said that government will for the time being deal with ContourGlobal and RIG as the two companies continue to show commitments to their promises. Other companies engaged in methane extraction, he said, will have to partner with either RIG or ContourGlobal.

Rwanda Methane Pump
Lake Kivu methane could power entire nation (A giant pipe tapping gas from a huge lake could provide electric power for much of Rwanda, help revive its devastated forests and quell the danger of a bizarre natural disaster....)

*Lake Kivu - a Time Bomb Or Source of Energy?
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Aug 15, 2007

Bukavu - Growing up on the shores of Lake Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kevin and his friends were often warned not to play in the water. "My mother always asked us not to dip things like keys, rings or any metallic object in the lake," he said. "She said the metals would react with some gas and could result in an explosion." Kevin may not have believed her at the time, but his mother's concerns echo something scientists have been studying for a number of years - the levels of dissolved gases in the lake and whether they are a cause for concern.

Lake Kivu is one of Africa's Great Lakes, on the border of the DRC and Rwanda. It is a source of water, fish and sand for two million people and provides a vital link between the ports of Goma and Bukavu in DRC and Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu in Rwanda.

The lake is 1,460m above sea level and empties into the River Ruzizi, which flows southwards into Lake Tanganyika, covering 2,700sqkm in a volcanically active area.

Prof Boniface Kaningini, director-general of the university college Institut Superieur Pedagogique de Bukavu (ISO-Bukavu) and a biologist with at least 20 years of research on Lake Kivu, says studies show the amount of methane gas and carbon dioxide in the bottom of Lake Kivu has increased by 30 percent in the last 30 years.

Despite the existence of studies that link the increase of these gases to volcanic activity, Kaningini says another factor could be the introduction of the sardine Limnothrissa miodon - locally known as Ndakala - into the lake. "The origin of the methane gas on the lake goes back 40 years ago when this fish was introduced into Lake Kivu from Lake Tanganyika," he said. Since then, Kaningini says, fishermen on the lake have noticed a gradual fluctuation in the catch of fish. A number of different studies have been taking place to examine these changes, Kaningini said. The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) concluded that the "the introduction of Limnothrissa miodon, the first pelagic and planktivore fish in Lake Kivu, could be responsible for significant changes in the nutrient fluxes".

Eawag's report also said the density and layers of the water function as a flexible lid, trapping gases from the Earth's mantle as well as gases generated in the sediments beneath the lake. According to lake water experts, the Salmon Enhancement and Habitat Advisory Board (SEHAB), a potentially catastrophic event called a 'limnic eruption' could occur if volcanic or landslide activity caused the lake waters to turn over and effectively lift this 'lid'.

A cloud of released gases would smother all lakeside life. "The only two known and observed 'limnic eruptions' are at Lake Monoun in Cameroon in 1984, killing 37 people; and more catastrophically in 1986, nearby Lake Nyos. At Lake Nyos, over 80 million cubic metres of carbon dioxide were released from the lake depths into the atmosphere," A 2006 SEHAB study states.

Lake Kivu, Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun are termed as "Africa's Killer Lakes" in a 2006 UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) report. It said Lake Kivu remains a cause for "serious concern" as approximately two million people live in the lake basin.

"A rift in the area is pulling apart and causing a crack to move closer to the bottom of the lake. Large amounts of boiling lava entering the lake could be more than sufficient to trigger a large overturn releasing huge amounts of deadly carbon dioxide," it said. "In addition, the lake contains a large quantity of methane that could also cause explosions above the lake."

In 2002, there was an eruption of Mt Nyiragongo near the capital of North Kivu Province, Goma.

However, Pascal Isumbisho, a biologist whose PhD thesis is on the Zooplankton Ecology of Lake Kivu, says there is no direct proof of a link between the increase in methane gas and volcanic activity. Isumbisho, who heads the biology department at ISP-Bukavu, said: "The question is: could what happened in a lake in Cameroon [Lake Nyos] 20 years ago repeat itself here in Kivu?" Kaningini says the risk of another Lake Nyos is minimal and so far gas levels have only affected the numbers of fish caught, not the quality. "I would say people living around the lake need not worry; what we need to do is to conduct more research and collaborate better with the Ministry of Environment as well as with other stakeholders to understand this phenomenon," he said.

Whatever the source of the methane, scientists agree the solution is to tap the gas as an energy source rather than risk a possible disaster.

Salif Diop, a senior programme officer and head of the Ecosystems Section of UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) says degassing the lake - as is being done for Lake Nyos - is a viable and economically beneficial option.

Research has shown the lake's deep waters contain an estimated 65 billion cubic metres of methane, the equivalent of 50 million tonnes of petrol. UNEP estimates say Kivu contains enough methane to power the United States for a month, and five times as much carbon dioxide - about 200 km3. In 2003, New Scientist reported that this reserve could supply Rwanda's energy needs for 400 years, eliminating the need for wood burning, the main source of energy at the time. Beer factory Bralirwa has already realised the potential and has been extracting methane gas from the lake for harnessing gas and electricity since the 1980s.

Now, says Diop, "Riparian countries of the lake should investigate necessary resources in order to make the degassing of Lake Kivu a reality".

9.Keeping Masses Down and 11.Ministry of Plenty (Starvation) and 6.Disputed Territories

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~