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Rwanda's methane lake becomes source of future power

KARONGI, Rwanda--Beneath the calm waters of Lake Kivu lie vast but deadly reserves of methane and carbon dioxide, which Rwanda is tapping both to save lives and provide a lucrative power source.

Plans are in place to pump out enough gas for power that would nearly double Rwanda's current electricity capacity, as well as reducing the chance of what experts warn could be a potentially “catastrophic” natural disaster.

The glittering waters of the inland sea, which straddles the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, contain a dangerous and potent mix of the dissolved gases that if disturbed would create a rare “limnic eruption” or “lake overturn,” expert Matthew Yalire said.

Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are large and dangerous enough to risk a sudden release that could cause a disastrous explosion, after which waves of CO2 would suffocate people and livestock around, explained Yalire, a researcher at the Goma Volcano Observatory, on the lake's DR Congo shore.

“Right now the lake is stable, but for how long?” asked Yalire, who believes that extracting potentially explosive methane is one way to help “stabilize” the lake.

Near the town of Rubavu, a pilot project of the Rwandan government is already producing about two megawatts of electricity from the methane in the lake.

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Men fill jerrycans with water from Lake Kivu on the Himbi beach in Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Aug. 11, 2013.

(AFP

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