Rwanda Inaugurates Groundbreaking Methane Power Project

Lake Kivu, which straddles the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is renowned for its most unusual resource. Dissolved in its deep waters, at a scale not seen anywhere else on Earth, are billions of cubic meters of methane and carbon dioxide, which result from nearby volcanic activity. For decades, scientists, engineers, and the governments of the two states have sought to extract the methane—the principal component of natural gas—and use it to generate power in one of the world’s must under-electrified regions (see “Lake Kivu’s Great Gas Gamble”).

Now, with the launch of Kivu’s first large-scale gas-to-power plant, the endeavor has reached a major milestone. On Monday, from the Rwandan lakeside town of Kibuye, the U.S. energy company Contour Global inaugurated the first phase of KivuWatt, a $200 million facility that is the only industrial-scale plant of its kind in the world. It draws up water from an offshore barge, siphons off the methane, and pipes it to a 26-megawatt power plant on shore.

KivuWatt’s phase one, which faced years of delays before beginning to feed the grid on January 1, will be joined in the coming years by a series of similar ventures. In a second phase, Contour Global plans to build two or three more barges, ramping up capacity to 100 megawatts. Another U.S. firm, Symbion Power, signed an agreement with the Rwandan government to build a 50-megawatt project last December. Read more