Wärtsilä Gas Engines to Harness Methane to Disarm a Lethal Lake

By Peter Pospiech at April 05, 2013 08:32
Filed Under: drive systems, Fuels & Lubes, LNG fuel, Research & Development

The deep water of Lake Kivu on the Congolese-Ruanda border contains large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide. The reserves of methane are estimated to be 65 km3 (65 billion cubic metres) and carbon dioxide reserve 255 km3.  The methane is considered to be partly magmatic in origin, produced by microbial reduction of the volcanic carbon dioxide, and partly biogenic through the anaerobic reduction of dead algae and fish on the lake floor. 

In the past the lake has erupted at irregular intervals, belching out these deadly gases. In 1986 a similar eruption at Lake Nyos in Cameroon killed 1.800 people – including some living as far as 25 km from the lake. With two million people living in the basin of the much larger Lake Kivu, this represents a mega-disaster waiting to happen.

But the methane gas also provides an accessible and renewable energy resource to the Kivu region, valued at tens of billions of dollars.

In collaboration with the US energy company Contour Global, Wärtsilä is building a power plant that will use Wärtsilä 34SG engines, with an output of up to 9.000 kW each at the shaft, and gas extracted from Lake Kivu to generate 25 megawatts of electricity for Ruanda’s electrical utility. 

The Wärtsilä 34SG engines are available in three variants: the nine-cylinder, in-line Wärtsilä 9L34SG with 4,050kW shaft power, the 16-cylinder Wärtsilä 16V34SG engine of 7,200kW, and the 20-cylinder Wärtsilä 20V34SG with 9,000kW shaft power. The nominal speed is 750rpm.

“The plant is ready to start its operation in this year. But this is only the first phase of a 100 MW project that should perhaps double Ruanda’s total electricity generation capacity,” says Tony van Velzen, Wärtsilä Power Plants regional director for Africa. “It will greatly reduce Ruanda’s total fuel imports, and enable profitable exports of electricity to surrounding countries.”

This innovative power generating project will also reduce gas levels in Lake Kivu significantly, lessening the risk of a potentially catastrophic lake eruption.


Images: Courtesy of Wärtsilä

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