Stand-out Solutions to Climate Change Problems

Climate Change: Lake Kivu 3D Satellite image by Christoph Hormann
Lake Kivu 3D Image (c Christoph Hormann)

Hydragas: Is it a New Economy Solution for Climate Change?

Hydragas is targeting recognition as a real solution provider for climate change. See here if what we say about Hydragas Energy’s solution to prevent climate change is worthy. Below is the challenge link to Bloomberg’s New Economy Web-site. So, should we be in Beijing this November to present our story? Read below for the qualifying Q&A.

The Bloomberg New Economy Forum

We are living at a pivotal moment in history. Economic power is shifting dramatically from the West to new economies. New markets and new leaders are exercising unprecedented influence over the course of economic change on the global scale. While complex challenges persist, new opportunities are presenting themselves each day. It will take a new community of leaders thinking, innovating and working together to create the thriving, inclusive global economy of the future.

A new community for the new economy

A world in transition presents unprecedented challenges such as climate change. Luckily, the solutions are out there. We want to know about them, scale them, and make them the new normal. Seven solutions will be presented at the New Economy Forum in Beijing this November … one could be yours.

The Problem

Who is affected by this problem?

Millions of people, the worst affected, may die suddenly in one catastrophic incident. They could be swallowed by a dense, asphyxiating, toxic cloud. It would blanket their homes like a fast-moving morning fog.

Unless we all do the right thing, this forecast vent can occur on any single day in the next 68 years. Without the right intervention it would inflict a cruel, swift and brutal outcome from a single, major climate change event.

Many of the four million people living in the zone will number among the unsuspecting victims. The zone is the Western Rift Valley, around Lake Kivu in Africa. The victims will be anyone, young or old, mostly the rural poor. Timing of this event depends on the trigger. It may even delay until it’s only the children or grandchildren of those living there today. But most victims will die on a single fateful day.

Survivors are those that will run uphill within moments to escape the in-rushing cloud. To give them a chance, warning sirens should sound off in every community. But there are none there yet.

The next affected would be the adjacent population, people outside the cloud’s reach. They live nearby the valley, but fatefully out of the kill-zone on the day. Millions more live in this second zone, the most affected of the survivors. But at the time of the incident, they are just helpless bystanders, unable to intervene. These victims would suffer trauma, loss of family, disruption and disease, starvation and confusion.

How many are affected by the problem?

Casualty numbers will vary. The most lives will be saved by using an escape plan and warning siren. People must learn to climb to high ground to escape, hundreds of metres above the lake. It is like disaster planning for a coastal tsunami. We expect millions may die, most in minutes, overcome by the speed and toxicity of the cloud. Survival depends on how high up the hills they live, how fast and high they flee. It may even depend on the wind direction that day.

Classic Photo of Mt Nyiragongo from Lake Kivu
Mt Nyiragongo above Goma over lake Kivu

Cities closest to the water, including Goma with its million residents on flat lava plains, would have the most difficulty escaping. Countless dead will be strewn in the streets within minutes. One can visualize these streets looking like Pompeii or the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Try to imagine a disaster with four or five times the million casualties of Rwanda’s genocide. But imagine that in one day, not the 100 days of mid-1994.

The entire valley could remain uninhabitable for a long time. This can be weeks or perhaps months. A strong wind only can disperse the cloud, as the valley is ringed by hills except to the south. No entry should be allowed into the affected zone, not without gas testing. Controlling the situation requires an enormous civil defense effort. Only properly equipped rescuers should enter the zone with such risk of death or disease.

Eventually the world will feel the impact, beyond the news cycle of the death toll. Climate change effects will occur around the globe from a one-day release of 2-3 gigatons of carbon.

What is the problem this solution addresses? 

The problem is averting a vast, unprecedented, existential threat. Lake Kivu is an enigma. It’s a huge, deep mountain lake, dammed by live volcanoes. It has both a legacy and further potential to erupt catastrophically. The lake’s has a unique ability to contain a huge gas build-up within its 1600-foot depth. We also know that the gas will eventually erupt, as a dense and toxic cloud. This limnic eruption can create a vast humanitarian disaster and climate change incident.

The lake is layered with five thick strata of varying density water. Each layer’s density increases with minerals dissolved from lava. These strata trap gas. The density gradients separate them, sealing in the gas. The top layer is oxygen-rich, home to fish and algae. But the deeper 90% supports only anoxic life forms. In there are micro-organisms that convert sinking dead biomass into gases.

After a millennium of calm, a clear trend is that gases will saturate the lake by 2088. But before these next 69 years pass, a seismic or volcanic event can preemptively trigger an eruption. Those events can supply the required burst of energy.

Risk levels of eruption risk levels increase faster every year, until 2088. Our solution must be to prevent an eruption. From 2007-2010 the world’s leading experts studied the problem and alternate solutions. They debated the developing outcomes for 3 years. Then they wrote up the rules. It was more complex problem than they first imagined.

Why have other attempts to solve this problem failed or been incomplete?

Photo of Gas Separator on the 1965 Gas Extraction Plant on Lake Kivu's Cap Rubone
UPEGAZ 1965 Gas Plant

Other attempts were made to fix the problem. At first, in 1960, the level of threat was unknown. Gas extraction was seen as a need to produce energy, not a means to prevent a disaster. Extraction started in 1965 when a Belgian company, UCB, designed and built a plant. But it was just an experimental shore-based plant, too small to make a lasting negative impact. It didn’t have the capacity to keep pace with gas formation. While the 1960s gas extraction method was an imperfect solution, it was pioneering. But it was small, inefficient and wasteful. Above all, it couldn’t resolve the lake safety issues, as the problem identification and solutions were only finalized 50 years later.

But trouble came when new investors copied and expanded the legacy engineering concept. For instance in 2008, “Kivu Power 1” started up a floating, platform-based version. However this unit struggled to perform, experiencing riser failures, with below design quality and output. It shut down in 2015.

What is the potential impact of a failing to address the problem?

In 2008 another company began to develop a 10-times larger version. But that took 7 years to build and start-up. At this scale it manifested more detectable safety and compliance problems. For instance, the design over-used gas resources, with low recovery of methane and creating a worrying disturbance of the lake strata. Even fully developed, it can only recover under 25% of the lake’s potential output. As a solution it was not doing enough for climate change and perhaps making it worse than hoped.

Above all, this plant is seriously non-compliant with the lake’s rules-of-use, compromising safety and environmental needs. After 3 years operation, monitoring data shows it was irreversibly damaging the lake’s density gradients. But compliance to all these rules are key to lake safety. Therefore the environmental authorities are weighing an order to shut it down to re-equip.

The New Economy community should embrace solutions to this problem because?

Rwanda is a New Economy country; first in the world to ban single-use plastics. Although 3rd World, it has the drive and ambition to improve its standing. For instance its economy has 15 years among world-leaders of growth. It successfully worked to protect the mountain gorillas and reverse their slide to extinction. It is also reversing deforestation, but needs an alternate form of biomass for renewable energy. While it is the most densely populated country in Africa, it is also one of the cleanest. Rating agencies show it as one of the safest and least corrupt countries globally. But the lake’s problem can before long compromise the country’s safety.

Rwanda, like its western neighbour on Lake Kivu, have an opportunity to propel their economies with renewables. For instance they can power 90% or more of their non-transport energy use with clean energy. They can switch from 45% imported oil to renewable biogas for power generation. The resource is available in the lake, where it has accumulated for 1000 years. However, the solution must include successfully extracting it and using it. The climate change problem is more completely resolved if Lake Kivu methane is fully used as renewable energy.

If left unchecked, climate change threatens Rwanda with rising temperatures and droughts. In past millennia the biggest eruption risks for Lake Kivu came with prolonged droughts. Public and private sector leaders have identified the need for this gas development, as it can have a great impact on their sustainable future. Hydragas has partnered with and explored our approach with government for many years. So we’re now ready to launch this solution, a concrete initiative to save lives, building a safer and cleaner country.

The Solution

What promising existing solution to this problem would you like to submit?

At the core of our product, the solution we will deliver is innovation. It’s the excitation that gets gas to more energetically separate out of water. For instance our exciter unit can make soda cans explode.

The complete product is now ready to implement, after 17 years of research, plant engineering and design development. For us the easier element was innovating, thus reinventing a dysfunctional legacy process to degas the lake. After that we built a pilot-project on the lake. We had to ensure it worked and assured others too. Feasibility studies followed. In this way we determined how to design, construct and operate a plant at scale. Because of this successful work program, it’s ready to achieve that promise.

However, in building full-scale underwater process plants, we work within a complex lake system. This complexity has some potentially great dangers. We must monitor for any subtle changes that occur with water flows in and out of these strata, during degassing. Our diligence test lies in running a demo plant at full-scale for proof of performance. This is our critical next step.

We’re raising $30 million of project capital to build it. Then, with this proof in hand, we can install up to 200 of these modules around the lake. They will be grouped with ten to a control platform, with each platform piping gas ashore. Some are up to 15 miles from onshore power plants or the gas network. We’ll build these facilities to use or distribute the gas. The need is more than to prevent eruptions, it’s for a novel source of clean energy too. Our planned investment for full capacity is $3.5 billion.

How does your solution enable the private sector to uniquely contribute?

The remaining open piece of our solution puzzle is the private sector investment. The combination of Africa, innovation and the lake’s perceived risk will exclude >99% of the investment community from considering this investment. The combination of great social and humanitarian impact, positive environmental impact and high double-digit investment returns provides a triple bottom line. We trust it can entice the remaining <1% of the investing community to consider investment. We are looking to engage them.

Nyhavn Area of Copenhagen - Site of 2008 & 2009 Conferences
Nyhavn Area of Copenhagen – Site of 2008 & 2009 Conferences

Our Expert Group wrote the rules-of-use of the Lake Kivu resource in a 30-page book that sets out the principles to apply. The first principle is public safety. It sets the priority in the face of the looming existential threat to millions. The second principle is environmental preservation. It needs to keep the lake as a viable ecosystem for the next 50 years of gas harvest and for the centuries that follow. The third principle is societal benefit. We need to ensure that existing usage of the lake continues, such as lake transport and the fish harvest. Producing clean energy must contribute to cheaper energy and increasing employment.

Only after these first three will come the benefit to developers and investors. But the project benefits will be economically sound, more rewarding than most global investors’ yields from resource industries. Perhaps it may be too niche for big oil and gas players. But with a lifetime revenue potential of $100 billion, and high free cash flows, there is enough to cater for investor returns and social obligations.

How does your solution deliberately create and sustain societal good?

The rules-of-use of Lake Kivu mandate societal good. We must achieve them through adopting the three principles. But societal good goes deeper, it must be more meaningful and explicit. Hydragas will adopt and sustainably engineer the best life-saving measures as our primary goal. We must deliver them for the safety of millions in the community.

We have have observed a worrying example of the outcomes of showing indifference to the regulations. The cost could one day be measured in millions of lives not just millions of dollars. Hydragas will therefore act in the best way we can, to commit and comply fully to the rules.

But to date there have been cases where the best has not been done. An earlier developer used political and legal means to avoid complying with mandatory requirements in the latest Management Prescriptions. They began designing their facility based on an unofficially released early draft of the regulations. For instance, the early 2008 draft issue was not explicit on extraction method. The draft was less stringent on key requirements and their design constraints. The key one in the 2009 update was the banning of use of the legacy extraction method.

Designing Solutions to Regulate for Safety

Therefore, during detailed design they were obliged to make changes to achieve compliance with this 2009 version. Instead they threatened to sue for costs and damages to avoid complying. They didn’t change anything despite having the time in a slow moving project.

Since then some concerning trends were shown in monitoring results. By then they filed suit against government for a “change in law”. In the same time frame, the environmental authority is weighing a shutdown order for them based on the monitoring results.

As Lake Kivu developers Hydragas fully subscribes to the principles and requirements in the Management Prescriptions. We were co-authors of the document. Our innovation and design are key enablers for compliance to our mandate as developers. We need the support of our investors to commit to societal good, including our role in preventing climate change. While Africa’s legacy of oil & resources investment hardly sets us a good example, we are setting out to make the environment safer for us and for the societal good.


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