Energy in Africa

New technology to power up Central Africa

Published: 03-APR-07

Lake Kivu lies between Rwanda and the DRC and is a unique store of several billion tons of greenhouse gases, measured as carbon dioxide equivalent, dissolved and accumulating continuously in its depths. Methane and carbon dioxide are continuously generated and accumulated, creating both risk and opportunity in the sustainable production of renewable energy.

Rwanda continuously faces power shortages and is known for deforestation, conflict and poor infrastructure. Therefore, a breakthrough technology has potential to unlock massive energy reserves in this landlocked region. New technology for extraction of methane gas from Lake Kivu provides an opportunity to generate all the Great Lakes region�s power needs. Power production is possible at a quarter the cost of alternative power in the region.

Beneficial use of the resource creates an opportunity for limiting the escape of millions of tons of greenhouse gases to atmosphere annually. This is while producing up to 300MW of power. Pipeline gas can be provided more cheaply than firewood and charcoal to towns and villages.

Potential disaster can be averted at the same time as providing cheaper energy. The technology would be able to prevent a catastrophic gas release (turnover) that occurs every one thousand years to two thousand years. A release last happened 900 years ago.

Philip Morkel has been working on the project since December 2001 and has developed the new gas production technology that economically and profitably extracts methane from the lake to produce cheap power. First commercial production is planned for late 2007.

Alternative Energy Options

Natural gas from Lake Kivu is the only viable alternative source of energy to the forest products in the region. At the current, rate of deforestation all remaining forest reserves would have been destroyed within the decade. Forests will cease to sustain the population. This situation could force rapid depopulation of the region, dispersing millions of the region�s poorest as refugees into already crowded neighbouring countries.

With this improved production technology, gas can be delivered to industries and households cheaply enough to economically replace firewood and charcoal. Three standard size gas plants would provide more than sufficient gas to fuel 850 000 households out of a country with over 1�750�000 households, or at least 50 percent of the population of Rwanda.

The Project

Each gas production plant consists of a floating platform supporting multiple gas production modules suspended in deep water on Lake Kivu. The plant is designed to process water from over 300m deep in the lake, to extract natural gas annually.

Pilot plant testing was carried out between January and May 2004 on the lake. The testing showed considerable improvement over prior technologies due to the unique plant design and the breakthrough excitation technique. Test results show that 200 percent more gas can be extracted with the production module at up to three times the depth previously considered possible. The plant is energy efficient and able to continuously produce 90% pure methane indefinitely with a mechanically simple and long-term sustainable process.

The initial distribution system for domestic gas will be installed as a pilot project to demonstrate the efficacy of domestic gas. In the longer term, it is hoped that this pilot project will be replicated through hundreds of towns and villages as more gas becomes available from more production plants.

The natural gas produced by the first-installed production plant can produce at least 60 percent of Rwanda�s current peak power needs.

Structuring the funding side has also proven to be a challenge. The total project will be approx $17mn. Currently, $6mn for funding has been allocated by local Rwandese and Kenyan investors. -Business in Africa Online

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