June 17, 2024

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DRC’s Volcanic heat can generate renewable energy as Lake Kivu’s methane gas generates Cooking Energy for Rwanda

By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNGU

Energy experts believe that volcanic heat could generate renewable energy but also that it would require a lot of effort to convert the heat into the energy used in normal life.

A few days ago, the DRC based Nyiragongo Volcano erupted again, but those who saw how hot the volcanic lava is they wonder if no one would pursue them to generate useful energy.

The reason why many say this is possible is largely due to the fact that methane gas from Lake Kivu is being extracted and produced into usable energy like cooking gas on the Rwandan side and that leads many to wonder if such an operation cannot be carried out in parts of the Nyiragongo volcano.

Bryan Willson holding the metal combustion chamber for an Envirofit stove. Willson and his colleagues worked with Oak Ridge National Labs to develop a new alloy for the chamber that allows higher performance than similar stoves.

While speaking to Foreign Press participating in a virtual tour whose purpose is to look at the U.S innovations in combating Climate crisis, in a Q & A session with Dr. Bryan Willson, Executive Director of the Energy Institute, Colorado State University outlined some of the ways that can make volcanic heat into renewable energy even though it would require a lot of investment.

He said that “the fact that the volcano brings to surface hot lava, and that means that in the areas that are volcanic often have great geothermal resources.”

The hot lava is normally several miles underground. Dr. Bryan explains that “If you have an eruption, it means that that hot lava, that mantle has come to the surface, and even when it’s not erupting it may be close down below the surface.”

He gave the examples of the Philippines that has some geothermal sites and another geothermal site in Rwanda. 

“So basically, in those cases you drill down to very – to get to the very hot rock and then you pump in water, and that water is then flashed into steam and you pull out the high-temperature, high-pressure steam and you run that through – either through conventional steam turbines or you can use another fluid.” He added

“There are other areas that have used geothermal energy – Hawaii, which is geothermally active, has a number of geothermal sources; California has good geothermal resources…So what may be a disruption, a health hazard in – is – can also represent that geothermal could be a really valuable energy resource.  And it’s a very low-carbon resource as well.” Dr. Bryan said.

According to experts, there are a lot of benefits from Geothermal Energy. They indicate that Geothermal energy provides a clean renewable energy source that could dramatically improve the environment and it can make a big contribution to reduce air emissions from fossil fuels and also to offset the air emission of fossil fuel-fired power plants.

In countries that have made progress Geothermal energy is also used to directly heat individual buildings and to heat multiple buildings with district heating systems. Hot water near the earth’s surface is piped into buildings for heat.

Geothermal energy is the heat that comes from the sub-surface of the earth. It is contained in the rocks and fluids beneath the earth’s crust and can be found as far down to the earth’s hot molten rock known as magma.

Lake Kivu Methane Gas is a response to cooking Energy

Dr. Bryan goes on to say that around the world there are positive examples of sustainable solutions that came from life-threatening sources.

He cites the example of Methane Gas in Lake Kivu which is currently used as a cooking energy.

Dr. Bryan Willson of Colorado State University during the signing ceremony at Rwanda Energy Group headquarters in 2017

“So, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Lake Kivu, it’s a unique lake on the border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.  By a negotiated treaty, each country has access to half of the methane, but – so the methane is a potential energy resource.” He explains.

“It’s also a potential health hazard because there is the potential for the upwelling of the water, rapid release of the lake that has happened in other areas on a much smaller scale, but if that happened in Lake Kivu it would be massive.” added Dr. Bryan who was speaking from Colorado where he leads an experienced firm that deals with Energy. 

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been working, for example, with the Government of Rwanda on looking at the methane stored in Lake Kivu to understand productive uses for that fuel.” He said.

He informed that “There are some particular places in the lake on the DRC side, near Goma, where because of some unique geology that upset – the potential for that gas to come out of solution is particularly urgent.  And some of that – in some of those cases, that gas is currently being vented, and vented and flared. “

“So, the question is – the gas can absolutely be removed from the lake the way it’s done on the Rwanda side with – well, with commercial projects currently underway and currently being developed”

Rwanda extracts Methane Gas from Lake Kivu

It does require a certain amount of investment.  One of the items that we looked at in our advice to the Government of Rwanda was that there are pathways to go from that – from methane to produce cooking gas.  So, cooking gas, LPG, is primarily propane and butane, but you can – I mean, there’s not a great chemical pathway from methane to propane or methane to butane, but we can go from methane to a chemical called dimethyl ether, which has – is a drop-in replacement for LPG. “Explains Dr. Bryan.

“So that’s one of the options that we outlined that it – that there could be a partnership that would allow creation of cooking gas that if it wasn’t possible to arrange the investment from the DRC side, maybe there’s a partnership that’ll allow the cooking gas then to be transmitted to the DRC.” He added.

This Energy Expert noted that “the biggest energy issue we have globally is cooking.  Half the world’s population still cooks on solid fuels – wood, dung, crop residues.  And the smoke from cookstoves kills over 4.3 million people a year, more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

“So, this is a combustion problem, and as one of the, really, leaders in combustion technology, this was a problem we wanted to be engaged in.  So, because we have some of the really good emissions equipment paid for by our industrial partners, starting in 2000, we began measuring emissions from cookstoves, developed the protocols that are now used globally, and then in 2008, actually began manufacturing cookstoves.  And a company we launched called Envirofit International is now one of the largest producers of cookstoves, selling clean cookstoves in emerging markets and developing nations.”

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