Gallery: Rwanda Taps Volcanic “Exploding Lake” for Power


Photo by Julien Harneis

Rwanda is harnessing the natural gas in one of three known “exploding lakes” to generate electricity in a nation where just 1 in 14 houses has access to power. The technology will boost the African nation’s economy while also mitigating the danger of lake overturn, in which huge clouds of carbon dioxide are released, suffocating everyone in their midst.

Image by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Let’s backtrack: an exploding lake? Lake Kivu, which lies on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is literally carbonated with pockets of carbon dioxide and methane that seep up from the volcanic Earth underneath. The ever-increasing amounts of gas in the water, combined with nearby volcanic activity, make the possibility of overturn dangerously high.

So the Rwandans have begun sucking up Kivu’s waters and filtering out the methane to use it for power, before dumping the water and CO2 back. The project is already producing 4 percent of the nation’s electricity and is drawing investment. But, good reader, is it green? Reducing the gas concentrations in the lake will make it and its populous environs safer for people, but natural gas is hardly a green source of power. And, according to the Guardian, there hasn’t been sufficient study of the environmental effects of dumping the filtered water and carbon dioxide back into the lake.

I’m no expert, but this undertaking seems to beg for attempts to sequester the carbon dioxide. After all, the biggest danger posed by that emergent technology is leaks, and Rwanda is already facing those.

Via Guardian


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1 Comment

  1. Kim Novak August 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    The story is relevant but unfortunately too superficial to even add value to the real debate. The saga of Lake Kivu is decades old and has been extensively studied by local authorities and international institutions like EAWAG from Switzerland. An expert group was appointed including these academics as well as engineers. Their findings are published and will form the regulatory basis for gas extraction from the lake, in a way that minimises the threat of a gas eruption in the future. Developers are advised to use designs that produce power and only release a necessary minimum of gas to atmosphere to mitigate the danger of eruption. Some developers can, and some cannot. Unfortunately the authorities have no had the know-how and political will to sort good from bad developers and the result could be lighting the fuse of a catastrophic eruption. ContourGlobal may be the worst offender thus far.

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