Children Living Near Lake Kivu
Methane Extraction

Stand-out Solutions to Climate Change Problems

Lake Kivu 3D Stallite image by Christoph Hormann
Lake Kivu 3D Image (c Christoph Hormann)

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

We hope for 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?

The millions of people worst affected may die suddenly, en masse, in a single catastrophic incident. They would be swallowed up into a dense, asphyxiating, toxic cloud, blanketing their valley like a morning fog. Unless we all do the right thing, this forecast fatal event can occur on any single day in the next 68 years. Without intervention it would be a cruel, swift and brutal outcome of a single, major climate change event.

Unsuspecting victims could number many among the four million people living there. It is the Western Rift Valley near Lake Kivu, in Africa. They are the farmers and fishermen, refugees, soldiers, tourists, students, women and children. The victims will be mostly the rural poor. Depending just when this event is triggered, it may only be the children or grandchildren of those that live there today. But most of the victims would die on one single fateful day. Any animals would perish too.

The people that will survive are those that 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 surrounding populations of two countries, people outside the reach of the cloud. They live in close proximity to this Rift Valley between Rwanda and the DRC, but out of the kill-zone on the day. Some ten million people could be in the zone with survivors most affected by this disaster. But at the time of the incident, they would have to helplessly stand by, unable to intervene in that cloud. These victims would instead suffer dislocation, loss of family, disruption and disease, starvation, confusion and perhaps anarchy in the aftermath.

How many are affected?

The casualty numbers will vary, for many reasons. A well-practiced escape plan with a warning siren could save many lives. But escapees would have to be taught to climb to high ground. They need to get to hundreds of metres above the lake, as with the disaster planning for the largest potential coastal tsunami. We still foresee that millions may die, most instantly, overcome by the speed and toxicity of the cloud. Most people’s survival would depend on how high up the hills they lived, whether they were in or above the growing cloud, and whether upwind or downwind on the 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 land, 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 a nuclear holocaust. One can imagine a disaster with four or five times the million casualties of Rwanda’s genocide. But imagine that happening in one day, not the 100 days of mid-1994.

The entire valley could remain uninhabited for a long time, weeks or perhaps for months or years. No early entry should be possible into the toxic cloud, not without gas testing. Everyone must delay re-entry to allow gas and its toxic danger to fully disperse. This control would require an enormous civil defense effort. At first only properly equipped rescuers only could enter the zone with such a risk of death or disease.

The world will feel the impact too, not just for a news cycle. But it will feel the climate change effects around the globe, from a one-day release of 2-3 gigatons of carbon.

What is the problem this solution addresses? 

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

The lake is layered with 5 thick strata of water. Each layer has an increasing density from minerals dissolved from lava. These strata trap gas and density gradients separated them, sealing the gas in. 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 biomass to gas.

After a millennium of calm, a clear trend is that gases will saturate the lake by 2088. But before these next 69 years are up, a seismic or volcanic event can preemptively trigger an eruption. It just takes a large enough burst of energy.

Risk levels of eruption risk levels increase faster every year, until 2088. Our only solution is to prevent this eruption. But what can trigger an early eruption? How much warning could be given? Would the problem recur, but worse the next time the lake recharges with gas centuries later?

From 2007-2010 the world’s leading experts studied the problem and solutions. They debated the developing outcomes for 3 years. Then they wrote up the rules. It was more complex than they 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 threat was unknown and extraction was seen as a need to produce gas, not to prevent a disaster. Extraction was started in 1965 by a Belgian company, UCB. But it was just an experimental shore-based plant, too small to make a lasting negative impact. It was also not nearly the capacity to keep pace with gas formation. So the 1960s gas extraction method was an imperfect solution, but it was pioneering, small, inefficient and wasteful. Above all, it couldn’t begin to conform to the rules mandated for lake safety issues, as these were only finalized 50 years later.

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

In 2008 a company began to develop a 10-times larger version. But that took 7 years to build and start-up. At this scale it confirmed safety and compliance problems. However the design over-used gas resources, recovering only 20-30%. Even fully developed, it can only recover under 25% of the lake’s potential output, not doing enough for climate change.

Above all, it is seriously non-compliant with the lake’s rules of use, compromising safety and environmental needs. After 3 years of operation, monitoring data shows it can irreversibly damage the lake’s density gradients. But it is compliance to these rules that are key to its 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 of world-leading 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.

The leader of the Sabyinho gorilla family group in the Virunga mountains in 2003
The Leader of the Sabyinho Family in the Virunga Mountains

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 with clean energy. They can switch from 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 problem is more completely resolved if it is 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 seen a stark example of the outcomes from indifference to the regulations. The cost could one day be measured in millions of lives not just millions of dollars. We will therefore act in the best way we can to commit and comply fully.

But to date there are 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 the Regulations 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.


Philip Morkel founded Hydragas Energy to develop his gas extraction from water technology. He has worked on and off on Lake Kivu, developing extraction technology and being on the expert group advising in its use. He is now starting fund-raising for a planned series of projects planned for Rwanda and DRC. The company is registered in Vancouver, Canada. He previously headed Barrick Gold's R&D Laboratory in Vancouver. Prior to that he led Hatch Limited's global oil and gas business unit, leading the company capability in LNG projects, gas-to-liquids and technology for unconventional oil and gas. For three years he led the projects in development team at Barrick Gold in Toronto, Canada, with a $30 billion portfolio of mining projects. Projects were located in four continents with challenging megaprojects in Chile, Russia, Pakistan, Africa and Alaska. Philip is a chemical engineer and project management professional with 30 years international project experience, from concept to construction, in mining, nuclear and oil and gas projects.

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