Lake Kivu with the hills and volcanos that surround it.

Interesting Lake Kivu Blogs & Posts

Blogs & Posts on Hydragas' Development of Lake Kivu

A selection of stories about Lake Kivu issues

Welcome to select Lake Kivu blogs and posts. This is a diverse choice of opinion, writings, musings, tributes and even rants triggered by related topics. Scan through posts below for topics from climate change, technical explanations, the gorillas of Virunga, social changes and personalities.

I share a passion with many Rwandans, Congolese, international travellers and experts for Lake Kivu and its splendours. We are all drawn to it. But Lake Kivu is a special and almost mystical environment, unique for its nature. Indeed, legends have grown around attempts to explain the lake’s resource treasure and how it behaves. Yet sometimes it presents itself as dark, moody, deadly and stormy.

Two live volcanoes define it. Just 10,000 years ago they turned the waters from being the source of the Nile River to flowing south and west through the Congo River to the Atlantic.  From its waters at night one sees the red glow from Mt Nyiragongo’s lava bubbling in the caldera. At other times the lake is calm and bright, a mirror-calm surface that defies its great depths and often violent history.

Ethanol from Lake Kivu - Already a Giant CCS System
Philip Morkel

Ethanol from Lake Kivu’s CO2 can Double Clean Energy Output?

Can we produce ethanol from Lake Kivu in addition to methane? If so, how? Methane is the primary energy form in the lake, which contains five times as much unusable CO2 in the reservoir. Academic research news offers a challenge and an opportunity to do so much more. A research team led by scientists from Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and Northern Illinois University has discovered a new electrocatalyst that can consistently convert carbon dioxide and water into ethanol with very high energy efficiency and low cost. Argonne’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development (U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science). Hydragas Energy worked for a decade to prove the leading gas extraction method from Lake Kivu. It gets tens of billions worth of methane out cheaply and effectively. But what if the waste product is worth even more? Ethanol Production Potential Can we now achieve this with another innovation? The lake is already a hugely important case for carbon reduction through producing renewable natural gas (RNG). But we do return gigatons of carbon dioxide to the lake – a huge carbon sink. It is essentially a low-value, unwanted product that continues to accumulate. Carbon dioxide is a by-product of the natural digestion process producing methane. It is scrubbed out during methane extraction to upgrade the product gas. We currently return it to the lake. What if we continue to take the methane out but recover a CO2 stream to shore? With the right process, can we also recover ethanol form Lake Kivu’s CO2? Could this be a cheap supplement to regional gasoline supply, in the form of a carbon-negative fuel? The market is there as a 15% blendstock to imported gasoline from the Arabian gulf. If so, we can do this by using a newly developed catalyst from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School. In addition, all one needs is CO2, water and electrical power – all abundant from the lake. So how big is the potential? The numbers can add up to a massive economic injection for the region. Q1 2021 prices in the USA are $540 per ton ethanol. With the production potential of one million tons per annum, that is a $25 B market over 50 years. Ethanol sales potential is half the Kivu methane potential, which is already $50 billion over 50 years. How would the economics look for ethanol? Cheaper fuel – Ethanol from Lake Kivu Gasoline has a vast, still growing market internationally. Many markets promote the use of up to 15% ethanol blended in the gasoline. Subsidy is usually needed to make production economic as ethanol is mostly derived from corn (maize) or sugar cane. These substrates are expensive to produce – hence their subsidy needs. But where the CO2 substrate is available for this alternative production process at virtually at no cost, the fuel produced can be much cheaper. One would expect that it reduces the cost of fuel and the quantity of fuel imports.  Ethanol from Lake Kivu can also be sold competitively within the region for fuel blending as gasoline prices inland are close to global highs. The contribution to a circular regional economy for East Africa is a real contribution to reducing reliance on imports. It enhances the use of the lake for CCUS, or carbon capture, usage and storage. It is already a vast opportunity, but further enhanced.  “The process resulting from our catalyst would contribute to the circular carbon economy, which entails the reuse of carbon dioxide.” — Di-Jia Liu, senior chemist in Argonne’s Chemical Sciences and Engineering division and a UChicago CASE scientist Advancing a Clean Economy in Africa We are looking to build onto an established energy case for a cleaner regional economy. Methane from Lake Kivu can eliminate diesel fuel imports for power generation, while replacing charcoal as a domestic fuel. With power production potential of 600 MW, the produced power can supply power at half the region’s marginal cost of power. But the use of gasoline as the primary transport fuel in Rwanda, DRC and other regional users was a complex opportunity. Ethanol from Lake Kivu’s production is an important alternative to supplement imports at a lower cost. From the USAID data in 2014, Rwanda’s GHG emissions had a net total of 7.6 Mt per year. With 100 MW of installed Hydragas-powered gas extraction and power generation, Rwanda becomes net-zero. The path to making the DRC net-zero is steeper, with 207 Mt per year GHG emissions. However the Eastern provinces of DRC, including Kivu Nord and Kivu Sud, may well transition to net-zero within 10-15 years. Ethanol production can use some of a vast store of accumulated CO2 gas in Lake Kivu. We currently need to wash this CO2 out of raw gas produced, to make 80% pure renewable natural gas (RNG) as pipeline natural gas. But now instead of returning the washed out CO2 to the lake, we can process the wash water to make ethanol. If testing shows that the process is successful and economic, we can hugely enhance ethanol from Lake Kivu as part of a clean energy production phenomenon. Rwanda can, with the Kivu gas project, become 100% supplied with clean non-transport energy. With this added gasoline substitution it can commence the displacement of a significant percentage of transport fuel too.

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Cooking on RNG to reduce deforestation
Philip Morkel

Sustainable Cooking Energy? #1 Use renewable natural gas.

What does it take to help a country make a transition to sustainable cooking energy? Why would the people change their tradition? What then is the most Sustainable Cooking Energy for the East African region? And can you imagine a new idea that puts over 10,000 women entrepreneurs to work to deliver it? Think of these ideas that are working well in Africa. Biogas from Lake Kivu can provide sustainable cooking energy delivery too. It is a renewable natural gas (RNG). Moving it by pipeline can replace firewood and charcoal more conveniently, at an even cheaper price. It can thus become the region’s primary domestic and industrial fuel. But this switch to supplying pipeline gas needs infrastructure that does not exist. We have a plan for that. The daily battle for cooking fuel Firewood or charcoal supplied 90% of non-transport energy usage in 2006. With the present population, usage rates are non-sustainable. By 2018 it was down fractionally to 83%. Deforestation rates are unsustainable. There is a growing need for a more sustainable cooking energy supply at low cost to towns and villages, with less climate impact. The wood-fuel energy mix changed little despite efforts to increase imports of LPG. The tropical forest has 80% disappeared. The exceptions are the Virunga and Nyungwe forest reserves. Even these national parks aren’t immune from the need. Charcoal-burners encroached into parks, cutting and burning trees to supply demand in the cities. In the DRC, militias in rebel enclaves “taxed” the transport of charcoal en route to Goma. Their tax is applied by charging carriers of charcoal extortionate fees at roadblocks. Prices escalate well above inflation, sometimes 50% in a year. The high cost of charcoal For Rwandans, charcoal costs can absorb 25% or more of a household’s net income. In fact, charcoal cost Rwf 2000 per bag ($3) in 2004. But in 2019, the price has escalated above Rwf 10,000 per bag ($11). A family would typically use more than one bag per month. The 250% increase from 2006 was far above inflation. This will still take 20% of monthly income, with no affordable substitute. From a financial perspective, charcoal is not a sustainable cooking energy either. In fact it has not improved since the country started to import over 10 million kg of LPG per year in an effort to stem deforestation. But, with LPG being much more expensive than charcoal, its high cost means that usage is low and household energy costs remain too high. The 2003 Draft Rwandan Gas Law stipulated that Lake Kivu gas is to be used solely for power generation. Fortunately the updated 2008 Draft Gas Law removed the power-only clause, opening up the potential for pipeline gas. In this case renewable natural gas (RNG) can and should supply the pipeline gas alternative to LPG, fuel-wood and charcoal for cooking. Pipeline RNG must become this viable alternative to biomass in the region’s supply mix. But using a first-world distribution model won’t do it as the capital cost and usage charges would be way too high. The “Vilankulo” option is better. (Indeed, the World Bank named the initiative after Vilankulo, a town in Mozambique.) This low-cost distribution model was first set up there in 1992 to supply sustainable cooking energy. Expensive power: not used for cooking Electrical power in the region was, since the 1990’s, and still remains too pricey for most users to use in cooking. One cannot imagine that a power price, which is double that in most countries of Europe, would be affordable to East Africans. They have incomes just a small fraction of the per capita GDP in Europe. Rwandan GDP per capita was less than 20% of say South Africa’s or Zambia’s in 2006. Power pricing was a major socio-economic problem for residents and also for commerce and industry. Electric power was only affordable to a few. Fixed rates in Rwanda ran from USc 22-26/kWh. But just 6% of the population had a power connection in 2006. Cooking with electrical power was a preserve of very few people. By 2018, availability of electrical power increased to 60% of households in Rwanda. DRC is lagging with only single-digit percentages of houses connected and using electrical power. But even with connections, the REG utility is concerned that consumption figures are exceptionally low for over 50% of users. Their household usage is below 56 kWh per year. This indicated that usage is limited to lighting and electronic equipment only. Here it is evident that sustainable cooking energy will be in strong demand. Cleaner domestic energy – future solutions Hydragas studied and modelled energy supply needs of Rwanda and DRC as part of its gas feasibility studies. We prepared feasibility assessments on RNG energy competitiveness and market size, including at least half a million homes. The market was price sensitive. Our recommended fix was to supply combined power and gas feeds into households. Power alone could not satisfy the needs affordably. This is borne out by the very low (56 kWh per month) power consumption the average home in Rwanda. The connected customers seem to preferably use it for essential lighting and electronics. Charcoal is preferred for cooking. But the poorer rural users consume only firewood and no electrical power. Indeed gas, once it is available and distributed to homes, can supply the bulk of energy needs in almost all lower income homes. Combined gas and power can be supplied more cheaply and effectively than its alternatives. Making the best out of competing energy sources But on the supply side, utilities are faced with the cost of connecting two energy sources. Some coordination can help, as was studied in South Africa. A study for the national power utility (Eskom) and Sasol (gas) looked into a combined feed of low amperage power with a small pipeline gas feed to homes. But the two energy utilities could not forge the necessary cooperation. In the end, like Rwanda, power was not affordable. So in South Africa, dirty coal made up the lower cost alternative. The coal was sold by the “hubcap” at rates ten times higher than bulk supply prices. Because of the winter extremes of freezing temperatures and low wind, coal smoke blanketed many cities at night. Respiratory disease rates in South Africa’s poorer townships rocketed up to endemic levels. Several sources have contributed to the growing power supply mix for Rwanda. Unfortunately diesel power dominates the mix. But less alternate sources have been available for cooking fuels. Very few are affordable, as illustrated with low sales of LPG, and biomass continues to dominate. Balancing thermal energy and electrical power use But Kivu gas can and should supply thermal energy into this mix. It is a cheap, convenient thermal energy source for households and industry. A key environmental impact, from gas use, is its ability to halt or reverse deforestation. This is done by replacing charcoal as a dominant fuel source. A major capital investment need is a new national gas network to connect population centres. This network will provide the backbone for gas transmission and distribution around the country. The geography of Rwanda is well-suited for running a cost-effective HDPE gas supply network. It is a small country with a dense population. Despite being mountainous, medium-pressure, plastic (HDPE) gas pipelines are simple and effective to install. So, quite simply, it uses less piping material to connect more people at lower cost. Compare gas networks developed for Mozambique A medium-pressure network is an expanded, country-scale form of the Vilankulo concept. The World Bank GGFR Report of 2004 discusses the simplicity and effectiveness of a solution for low-cost gas distribution to small towns and islands. It provides sustainable cooking energy to poor communities very effectively. Mozambique’s first gas supply started in 1992 with a 110 km pipeline connecting the gas fields to two towns. It was expanded to include three offshore islands. We know it can work better in Rwanda because it is small and the most densely populated country in Africa. Thus, it is density of housing, even in rural areas, that reduces the capital cost per user. We advocate the Vilankulo concept, compatible with newer US and EU-based design standard for pipelines. How to get gas into houses at low cost? The Vilankulo design for household connections is simple. We can deploy it with limited training, as in Mozambique. It also supports an “Africa-appropriate” commercial model to supply sustainable cooking energy. This well-studied alternative can make distribution far more cost-effective. It is at the core of what made the gas program effective in Mozambique. Our team of Rory Harbinson and Fred Wilson led the gas network installation program in Mozambique. They ran it from 1992 to 2014. Their practical solutions led a low cost program for household gas. An element of the simplified approach was eliminating 98% of households gas meters as they made up 50% of the material costs. It took years of gas sales to pay for a meter. How to simplify a household gas installation? We designed simpler gas systems using small 32 mm plastic piping for back street mains (as shown above). In fact these operate at medium pressure, higher than in old cast-iron street piping in Europe. We buried lines along Mozambican streets with little or no paving. Further, we tapped in 12 mm house feeder lines. They fed gas to a cheap and simple “top-hat” pressure reducer, delivering gas to each house. The basic delivery systems are adequate for any 0.5 – 1.0 GJ per month users, mainly used to supply sustainable cooking energy. In 1992, the cost of connecting a house was $200. It included a two-plate burner. All of them are still operating 25 years later. By comparison, legacy systems in Europe or even South Africa cost $4,000 – $10,000, 20-50 times more expensive. We believe that the cheaper connection for Rwanda can cost little more than $450 in 2020 for all-in costs from the city gate to the household cooker. This fee includes the starter set-up with a two-plate gas cooker. Indeed, users could also install lighting, water heating, refrigeration, barbecues and full size stoves over time, as needed. Piping needs to be upgraded for commercial users and some larger houses. A workable commercial model for our times We prepared feasibility reports in the 1990’s for Mozambique’s local gas and power distribution. To cut costs to users, we made it simple and cheap to operate in rural Africa. One of the donors funding the scheme, from Scandinavia, had a Norwegian expert review our town supply study as they could not believe the low capital cost. To our amusement, the queries the expert raised included the following: Why no fleet of vehicles for the utility staff? What was the budget for an office block, or for a proper computer billing and administration system? Where is the workshop to repair all the gas meters and test or calibrate them? Also, where are the trench-diggers and earth-moving equipment? His list would have more than quadrupled the project cost and would have made gas unaffordable. In Vilankulo, a man on a bicycle could carry most needs for a house and he could install in an hour. He would ask for the help of the householder to dig an access trench for the pipe. Needless to say, this remains the way to do it. Simple lessons from Nigeria on commercial strategy This was where European and North American standard household installations were too expensive. Our gas project team was looking at how to cut out costs in Mozambique. Here, their revenues would take five years or more to pay off home installation costs. We found that half the capital cost was metering. Why even install a gas meter that costs 5 years gas usage? It will never pay back. Why specify the legacy household gas fitting to be the same as specified in Europe? In Africa, the cost of that first-world type of household gas installation will exceed the cost of the house itself.

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Sea floor mapping of the Caribbean
Philip Morkel

Sea Floor Mapping Upgrades

Advances in Sea Floor Mapping Extract from the BOEM Article Showing the Location of New Under-sea MappingNorthern Gulf of Mexico deepwater bathymetry grid.  We create this from 3-D seismic surveys. The grid defines water depth with 1.4 billion 12 × 12 meter cells. BOEM grid coverage is limited to the area defined by rainbow colors. This article shows the use of high resolution of sea floor mapping. In fact the sea floor mapping in view in this article covers the Gulf of Mexico. So, by using high-res in this case, one provides better resolution and interpretation of sea-floor features. Indeed, this may well include methane hydrate resource patterns and history. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has now created and released a new regional seafloor data set. It reveals that dynamic environment with stunning new clarity. The data include detailed seismic surveys originally shot by 15 different companies involved in the oil and gas industry. In addition, BOEM gained permission to release the relevant proprietary data publicly in a freely downloadable aggregate map of the seafloor. The detailed report is referenced below. A number of examples show the improved interpretation potential of the maps available with the higher resolution. The location of methane hydrates becomes distinctly more possible to determine. See

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The Hydragas Team

Philip Morkel

Founder & CEO

Canadian: 30-yrs global mining, energy projects lead

Fluor O&G lead in Africa, Global O&G lead at Hatch, Megaproject leader Mining, O&G, LNG, Nuclear

Innovator & global expert gas-from-water extraction

Fabrizio Stefani

Chief Engineer

South African, 15-years with Kivu project, engineering team leader

16 years Africa experience in EPCM resource projects

Engineering leadership in top international EPCMs

Ian Porter

Business Development

Australian: 30-year in O&G, power generation technology GE, Shell

Business development lead gas-sep. tech, clean energy

Renewables in Australasia

Aime Kubwimana

Country Lead

Rwandan: Civil/Structural engineer for 20 years.

International projects in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, East Africa.

Kivu Feasibility study, detail design, construction plan.

Helina Patience

Fractional CFO

Fractional CFO – Vancouver based financial, management consulting & start-up advisory.

Clients are technology companies that are scaling up – Seed through Series B

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