Rheinmetall Denel Munition launches green hydrogen initiative


Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) has taken the first steps towards improving its climate footprint as part of its German parent’s goal of becoming carbon dioxide neutral by 2035 and launched a proudly South African green hydrogen production, storage and transportation solution at AAD 2022.

This is a complete modular, self-sustaining, renewable de-centralised energy solution, specifically designed to be adapt to client specific requirements. The GESS (green energy sustainable solutions) unit is easy to transport, does not rely on external infrastructure and is robust enough to operate efficiently in several geographical locations. The GESS unit is able to provide approximately 230 kWh of electrical power to a client in a remote and isolated location. This is delivered by means of solar PV panels, lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cell technology (platinum-catalysed hydrogen proton exchange membrane fuel cell or PEMFC).

RDM CEO Jan-Patrick Helmsen, speaking at the launch at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof this week, said the company wants to take responsibility for the security of energy, especially renewable energy. As RDM is a chemical company with a significant plant engineering capability, it is well suited to developing clean energy solutions for South Africa and the world.

Clean, green hydrogen

“Our aim is to make cleaner, green hydrogen,” he explained. Green hydrogen is created through clean processes – in this case, solar panels are used to generate electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen (wind and hydropower can also be used to produce the required electricity to split water). This hydrogen can be stored and converted to electricity when needed. South Africa is ideally positioned to take advantage of this technology as it has vastly more sunshine than Europe, for example.

All components of the modular system can be combined into a fixed stationary system mode as well as into mobile applications of various scopes. With larger mobile set-ups, such as field hospitals, the conversion of solar power, electrolysis, storage of the hydrogen produced, and fuel cell-based electrical generation takes place in separate containers. The necessary modules can all be concentrated in a single container, operated by solar panels for producing electricity as well as water, thus further enhancing its potential for mobile operations. Mobile production of green hydrogen lends itself to industrial, private and expedition contexts as a means of generating power and heat. Byproducts such as oxygen can either be used for their own requirements or sold into the global commodity market. The hydrogen produced by the system can either be kept in situ or transported to a different destination, meaning that it can be stored at a distant location for subsequent use.

Production volume can be tailored to meet individual requirements. A container solution consisting of four standard sea containers can supply power for 30 to 40 households. The different systems, whether for tent cities, field hospitals, or stationary solutions, enable not just the production of green hydrogen as a future energy source, but also self-sufficiency and maximum mobility in undeveloped places or in off-grid commercial applications where electricity is lacking.

Helmsen noted until recently, it was expensive to produce green hydrogen and there was little political will, but that changed in today’s world, especially with the Paris climate agreement and other instruments. Among key markets for RDM’s green hydrogen solution are the steel and mining industries.

“Our vision is to position RDM as the partner for hydrogen supply globally. RDM is also developing solutions for fixed and mobile hydrogen power, and storage solutions for industrial use, as well as in support of local and remote municipal districts,” the company explained. It will target both the commercial and defence market and is designing a similar system for field hospitals and clinics in remote lactations, which will be able to provide medical grade oxygen as an additional product, since splitting water produces oxygen as well as hydrogen.

Carbon neutral goals

“RDM’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2035 and as part of the process we are replacing our entire combustion engine vehicle fleet with e-cars and hybrid vehicles. In the beginning of July 2022, we introduced e-scooters, including a charging station, as well as two mini e-buses, which will be used for commuting on our Somerset West and Boskop sites. RDM is in the process of constructing the first solar PV farm at the Somerset West site and the same model will be replicated across all five RDM sites in South Africa,” the company added.

RDM’s aspiration to become a world leader in the field of the production and supply of green hydrogen is part of its massive investment in South Africa. Since the existing joint venture began in 2008, when Rheinmetall Waffe Munition bought a controlling share in Denel Munition and formed RDM, the company has invested R1 billion in infrastructure, R1.5 billion in technology and product development, R200 million in training and bursaries, R100 million in skills development levies and R400 million in third-party income tax.

RDM employs over 2 500 people across five production sites in Wellington, Somerset West, Boksburg, Boskop, and Laingsdale, and supports over 1 400 South African companies. Exporting 95% of its production, RDM is the biggest single defence exporter in South Africa.