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African lake is a ticking bomb

A high-tech project aims to bring a gas-filled lake in Rwanda under control and convert the gas into energy. Far-reaching perspectives for Rwanda's economy and environment.

Lake Kivu, on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa, is one of the most dangerous lakes in the world. It is also considered among the most beautiful lakes in all of Africa, surrounded by green hills, fields and virgin forest.

The danger presented by the 2,400 km² lake is concealed under the almost perpetually becalmed surface.

Produces methane gas

The lakebed produces methane gas and carbon dioxide in such enormous quantities that it is in all probability only a question of time before an eruption occurs and releases the choking gas. The result would be a human catastrophe.

In a worst-case scenario, all inhabitants of this densely populated area could be at risk of losing their lives.

Converting gas to energy

But for the time being, at least, the local population can breathe easily. A high-tech project currently under way will not only extract the gas, but also reduce the risk of eruption.

The gas will be converted into energy in such quantities as to render this impoverished nation self-sufficient – and reduce energy costs by up to 80 per cent into the bargain.

Run on imported diesel

Today Rwanda's power plants run on imported diesel, which is a pollutant. A reduction in the consumption of diesel and oil would benefit the environment and increase currency reserves.

"Lake Kivu is a ticking bomb, but it is not too late to render it harmless. We expect another 100 years to elapse before any eruption occurs, which gives us time to plan what action to take," explains COWI project manager Mogens Winkler, who is acting as consultant for the World Bank, which is representing the project's seven international lenders.

Perpetual production process

Project manager Paul A. Nickson from International Finance Corporation under the World Bank is positively enthused about the project:

"It is a first-rate project with far-reaching perspectives. We are negating the risk of a catastrophe in the area and helping Rwanda get back on its feet. Not to mention the environmental gain," says Paul A. Nickson.

By Eva Isager  
Published: 8.5.2006

Behind the project

COWI is assisting a joint venture between the Rwandan government and the Finnish-Dutch-Norwegian company Dane Associates to extract the gas.

COWI's responsibilities include ensuring that security, the stability of the lake and environmental conditions in connection with the project are optimal.

The first phase of the project has a price tag of about DKK 500 million. The longer-term aim is to extract the same volume of gas that is constantly being formed at the 485-metre deep lakebed – and in so doing establish a sort of perpetual production process.

LAST UPDATED: 16.09.2016