How to Transform a Poisonous, Explosive Lake into Electricity

You don’t have to have liquid hot magma in order for a volcano to be dangerous. In fact, the lava is one of the least dangerous aspects of a volcanic event, as the ash can be much more deadly than the burning rock. So, when you hear about volcanic activity, you have to be a little bit careful about safety issues, as not everything is as it seems.

Lake Kivu Leaking Gas

Image: Big Wobble News

Lake Kivu, located in Rwanda, is an excellent example of how dangerous volcanic activity can become. Deep beneath the surface of the lake (a full 1000 feet down), an enormous reservoir of volcanic gas has been gradually accumulating. A combination of CO2, methane, and a variety of other gases slowly bubble up to the surface, which poses a serious risk to locals. Not only is the gas poisonous, but the explosive methane could cause a devastating explosion if an earthquake dislodges the gas. The gases under this lake do pose a very real threat; in 1986, gas from beneath Lake Nyos killed more than 1000 people.

KivuWatt Power Plant Plan

Image: BBC

The Rwandan government has come up with a rather clever solution that will kill two birds with one stone. They are going to drill down into the gas reservoir and extract the CO2-methane mix, using the methane to fuel a power plant. Then, they will return the CO2 to reservoir rather than release it into the atmosphere to make the whole endeavor as green as possible. This power plant, KivuWatt, will utilize a combination of aquatic engineering, conventional power plant technology, and a floating pipeline.

Lake Kivu from Space

Image: Arizona

Not only will the locals benefit from a cheap source of energy, but they will also relieve much of the pressure that is building up beneath the lake, which should significantly reduce the chance of an explosive gas leak.

ContourGlobal, a US energy engineering group, is working with the Rwandan government to complete this task. If successful, the KivuWatt power plant should drastically reduce Rwanda’s dependence on foreign energy supplies. ContourGlobal expects to have the power plants generating as much as 25 megawatts before the end of the year.


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