In most lakes, convection helps mix cool water from the depths with warm water at the surface, but in Lake Kivu, this is not the case. The lake, which lies on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is being slowly pulled apart by tectonic forces. This volcanic activity feeds carbon dioxide and methane into the lake’s depths, where it becomes trapped by the sheer volume of water above it.
Scientists are concerned that the lake is a ticking time bomb that could literally explode with devastating results. To address the issue, the Rwandan government is tapping into these deep methane reservoirs to simultaneously reduce the chance of explosion and also provide compressed natural gas for heating, industrial use, and automobiles.
Although we’ve discussed the need to phase out natural gas from modern construction, for areas of Rwanda which currently use wood stoves for heating and cooking, natural gas is an improvement upon this system.
The $400 million project, executed in partnership with Gasmeth Energy, would offer a cleaner energy source to help reduce air pollution, which accounts for eight percent of deaths in Rwanda. The initiative will also help conserve local forests which are being decimated for wood fuel, further contributing to the air quality issue.
The government hopes that this project will also help avoid what happened at nearby Lake Nyos. In 1986, the smaller lake, which also experiences the same gaseous phenomenon, exploded, releasing a gas cloud that asphyxiated almost 1,800 people nearby.
The methane extraction project began in 2019 and is expected to be completed and supplying natural gas to residents by the end of 2022.