Gas Extraction Innovation

Innovator, Hydragas Founder

Vision, Passion & Reality

The founder and CEO of Hydragas
Philip Morkel, Founder & CEO of Hydragas Energy

Our gas extraction guru, Philip Morkel, is the innovator behind Hydragas’s process technology. But his experience comes from developing, engineering and constructing resource projects and megaprojects globally. This company’s specialty is the ability to recover methane gas dissolved in large water bodies. It has an upside potential to enable a multi-billion dollar, low-carbon, renewable energy business.

Philip was first introduced to Lake Kivu in December 2001. At the time it was an undeveloped, little understood and mysterious resource. In oil and gas industry terms it was unconventional and did not fit the industry norms as a potential resource. His early work in studying and testing methods of recovering natural gas got the attention of Rwandan authorities.  He was appointed as an expert adviser on Lake Kivu extraction in 2007 for his gas extraction expertise and experience. This team’s work contributed to creating the regulatory framework that governs its acceptable use.

Transition of scientific work into practical resource use

He co-authored and was scribe for the current  Management Prescriptions for Lake Kivu Development. The “MPs” are a critical enabler and basis for regulation of developers of the lake. From 1935 to 2007, the scientific body of work developed some key understandings of the origin and nature of the resource. Methods of extraction were crude and simple, but unconstrained by understanding of the impact they may have on the lake’s structure, its environment or the community. This volume was a three year effort to connect the science with exploitation methods and their potential outcomes. It took so long, primarily because of the scale of risk created by not extracting the gas soon, but also because of the risk of doing it badly.

The Expert Group issued the document formally in June 2009. He also helped translate it into French in February 2010 in order to be acceptable in the DRC. Since then, Philip has a continuing role in an advisory capacity, working on achieving compliant and value-adding gas recovery with more appropriate extraction technology.

Philip co-authored a recent academic-style paper with Dr Finn Hirslund of COWI in Copenhagen. This paper provides key analyses for updating the knowledge-base of Lake Kivu. Indeed the paper also interprets impacts from observed changes to the lake strata since 2009. We therefore raise some significant concerns. In fact LKMP, the monitoring program, has observed changes underway that have raised danger levels in the lake. We discuss in the paper specific mechanisms that are the root-cause of the problems. Then we make proposals to mitigate damaging impacts. Some of these recommendations are in the form of changed or additional compliance needs. Philip sits on the Expert Advisory Panel of the designated regulator, the Lake Kivu Monitoring Program.

Gas Extraction Design Concept

1965 version of first-ever gas extraction plant in Rwanda

UPEGAZ 1965 Gas Extraction Plant – 2002In 2002, Philip invented a new processing concept for gas extraction for Lake Kivu. Hydragas pilot-tested it successfully from January to May 2004. We ran six months of pilot runs to demonstrate the operation and gather detailed data. When requested, we ran further demos, including several for the Rwandan Ministry of Energy.

Our design concept was a departure from the conventional design variations of the “legacy” extraction concept. Union Chimique de Belge first developed their concept project and built it in 1962-65. It ran until 2003, although equipment breakdowns were becoming persistent.

In 2005 World Congress of Chemical invited Philip to present a paper on the physics, design concept and field pilot-test results in Glasgow, Scotland. Hydragas will install the latest model of the process plant completely underwater, operating as a sophisticated, multi-stage auto-siphon.

Industry Experience

Hydragas team members Philip Morkel, Aime Kubwimana, Ian Porter and Fabrizio Stefani
The Hydragas Development Team

Philip brings technology, concept development and advanced engineering expertise to the development. At the same time he applies his local knowledge, country connections, the proverbial “10,000 hours of experience” and history to the project team. These are going to be key skills for developing this series of energy production projects. Certainly, he is supported by several experienced members of the pilot-project and feasibility team that started in 2003 or 2008.

Philip will deploy his deep experience in oil & gas and development of energy projects to execute this plan. Further, he has applied his 18 years of Kivu experience into developing detailed project planning. This plan for development includes first building a demo project, then a series of 50 or 100 MWe projects. Plant design for the projects has advanced to feasibility level, needed to be able to estimate the capital cost and construction schedule.

The process systems are designed to achieve all of the mandated requirements in the MPs. Consequently, if the updates anticipated in the MPs are included and ratified, the Hydragas design team is prepared to incorporate any changes into the demo plant design.

Gas extraction development path

Hydragas is a unique, disruptive technology. From this, its advantages include that it has three times higher gas recovery, up to five times the net methane output from the resource. It also has as much as ten times better economic returns than its competitors. It is significantly more beneficial for the host countries than any other, due to the class-leading methane recovery and energy output. From this, we see continuing development as a path to market dominance.

We have set out, in a separate document for investors, our detailed business plan. For instance, it details the comprehensive background, key technology learnings, plus the work and milestones completed to date. As a result, it establishes a clear narrative of the business concepts, drivers and prospects for their development. Therefore, these together can turn a patented, proven technology into a series of projects with strong economic returns on Lake Kivu.

Once Hydragas’s program of commercial-scale projects on the lake is well underway, we plan to use our know-how to further develop the technology’s uses. Hence this plan will be focused primarily on developing additional methane resources in aquifers and the oceans.

Gas extraction strengths and advantages

Hydragas will achieve technical success through applying expertise and innovation. Product development will continue as a stream of projects are built, with each new version able to identify and implement improvements to the process. Innovation was at the core of creating the breakthrough technology. The tested technology and data is incorporated in the design for gas extraction plants on Lake Kivu. As a result, we have full confidence in its effectiveness, but will want to continue with operational improvements.

Hydragas has registered a Rwandan subsidiary, Kivugas Energy Limited, that will form the investment platform in country. It will acquire and pursue projects through concessions from government.  Hydragas can earn further fees by extracting licensing and other support fees for the value added services to any other operations on the lake that use its technology.

Key competitive strengths for our gas extraction abilities lie in:
  • Providing the benefits of technological leadership, which gives a huge economic advantage to operations. Key advantages arise from lower capital cost, high gas recovery and the top plant efficiency, where:
    • Gas & power plant capex is ~$4.2m/MWe,
    • >90% net gas recovery where average of competitors is ~30%,
    • It allows process capability to access and process 50% more of the resource, where other technologies cannot function,
    • It makes highest quality natural gas produced, with >80% methane, higher than competitors that average 50% methane;
  • Delivering better resource stewardship and outcomes for the host countries and communities, through:
    • far higher net energy yields,
    • cheaper energy pricing to users,
    • higher taxes paid to the fiscus, and
    • 5 x greater power output.

The Compliance Imperative for gas extraction

Management Prescriptions Graphic of Contents
Management Prescriptions Contents

Hydragas achieved 100% compliance to the Management Prescriptions for Lake Kivu Development (MPs) in its extraction plant design. Our full compliance is unique among the few developers working on the lake. These MPs govern the technical requirements for long-term, safe use of the lake and its resources. We wrote them principally for the benefit of the riparian population, their safety and the environment.

Both Rwanda and the DRC recognized and adopted the 2010 version of the MPs as the authoritative basis for the regulation of Lake Kivu development. The two countries have initiated a 2019 review process to consider updates to the MPs, now at the 10th anniversary of their publication. Philip was contracted by the EU and government of Rwanda to  engage with the two governments, develop consensus and write up the engagement process for the review. A Dutch firm, Deltares, was appointed to commence the process of review in 2019.

Philip Morkel