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Renewable methane supply secured on the shores of Lake Kivu

Eva Isager, COWI

Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo get help from COWI to generate electricity from the methane dissolved into the waters of Lake Kivu.

Central African states Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are well on their way towards completing an ambitious plan: jointly extracting enormous amounts of methane dissolved in Lake Kivu, which lies on the border between the two countries.

Extracting the methane has the immediate benefit that it will prevent it from erupting, posing a threat to the two million people living on the shores of the lake.

A stable energy source

But from another perspective, the methane can also be harnessed by both countries as the world's largest renewable source of inexpensive, stable and environmentally-friendly energy.

Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are both developing countries with a history of conflict with their neighbours – and with each other. But the methane gas extraction can help both on the track towards economic growth.

Ready for export

Methane is well-suited to electricity production, and not only does the methane of Lake Kivu hold the promise of energy self-sufficiency for Rwanda, the excess renewable electricity it generates can be sold to neighbouring Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania.

For the past several years COWI has been involved in efforts to transform Lake Kivu’s methane from a threat to a resource. And starting in the summer of 2009, COWI has been engaged by the Rwandan government to help it foster its budding relationship with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The two countries are in the process of setting up a bilateral authority that will monitor companies granted concessions to extract the methane, and COWI has taken part in defining the organisation’s overall mission and drawing up its organisational guidelines.

At the negotiating table

The framework of the two countries’ partnership was hammered out during a conference held at COWI in early 2009 and attended by Rwandan Energy and Water Minister Albert Butare.

‘I’m thoroughly satisfied with the results of the conference,’ Butare said as the conference drew to a close. ‘This is a critical issue for Rwanda. We’re carrying out research and studies that help do something about a situation that people are worried about and which could prove fatal.’

The Rwandan government has since asked COWI to make sure methane gas extraction facilities live up to the terms of concession agreements. One task COWI will be undertaking in the near future is to monitor expansion of a pilot project generating 40 MW of renewable electricity annually.

The goal is to reach 500 MW annually over a 50-year-period, and then 100 MW indefinitely in order to keep the methane gas from building up. A mid-sized power plant in developed countries typically has a capacity of between 500 MW and 1000 MW.

This article has be re-published with permission from COWI.

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Steve said

27 January 2010
Wikipedia reports that the gas dissolved deep in Lake Kivu is 20% methane 80% CO2. If extracted for power generation, the electricity generated would have about two and a half times the greenhouse intensity of an equivalent coal fired power station. The exploitation of this mineral resource may have economic and safety merits but it should not be labled as a RENEWABLE ENERGY project.

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