Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) forging ahead with green energy technologies

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RDM has set a target of becoming carbon neutral by 2035 and is making significant progress towards this goal. The company has launched the construction of a solar power plant at its Somerset West site and developed a green hydrogen power solution.

An update on the company’s green energy initiatives was given in early May to the military attaché and advisory corps (MAAC) community. They had the chance to see RDM’s green hydrogen pilot plant in action during a demonstration at the company’s Boskop facility outside Potchefstroom. The mobile green hydrogen power generator consists of 112 solar panels capable of producing 50 kW, an electrolyser for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, hydrogen storage tanks, and an H2 fuel cell for generating electricity.

All the components of the system developed by RDM can be stationary or mobile to varying degrees. For larger mobile systems, such as military hospitals, solar power conversion, electrolysis, and hydrogen storage take place in separate containers. However, all the necessary modules can also be concentrated in one container, supplemented by solar panels for power generation and a water supply, to increase the flexible mobile application possibilities.

The mobile production of green hydrogen can be used in industrial, military, and civil areas to supply heat and electricity. By-products such as oxygen can also be utilized or marketed. The stored hydrogen can either be used on-site or transported to a destination, or stored at a remote location for later use. A green hydrogen power plant would be particularly useful for hospitals, as the oxygen generated in the process could be used for patients.

RDM has invested R10 million into the development of its H2 Pilot plant at Boskop. Currently in its final testing and qualification phase, this plant has garnered substantial attention as it has been showcased at nearly a dozen events throughout the country. The official launch took place during the Africa Aerospace and Defence Exhibition in September 2022.

RDM aims to become a green hydrogen exporter, especially as Europe is heavily investing in green energy infrastructure, underpinned by its own energy crisis. RDM aims to establish large-scale green hydrogen production for export and is investigating green ammonia as a more effective method for hydrogen storage and transportation.

RDM is looking to create a full turnkey green energy solution. RDM CEO Jan-Patrick Helmsen stated, “Europe and Asia want to partner with South Africa to create green hydrogen,” and Rheinmetall has the plant engineering capacity for this, having delivered over 40 ammunition plants worldwide and created the green hydrogen pilot plant.

The company aims to become a global supplier of green hydrogen and a local manufacturer of photovoltaic (PV) panels – solar energy makes up half of the green hydrogen plant. RDM recognizes massive global demand for solar panels, but currently, around 90% of solar panels come from China. Helmsen stated that relying on one country is not healthy, and RDM wants to produce panels in South Africa, especially considering that the necessary raw materials are available.

Major progress is being made in solar energy at RDM’s largest facility in Somerset West. In April, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the new R72 million, 5-megawatt solar power plant that is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Additionally, in July 2022, RDM introduced its e-bike charging station and e-vehicles for transportation within the facility in Somerset West.

RDM is actively engaged in a close collaboration with the City of Cape Town, proposing multiple large-scale solar farm projects. With their own expansive land resources and expertise in constructing grid-tied solar farms, RDM believes it is well-equipped to support the city’s renewable energy objectives. These solar farms are strategically situated in close proximity to other projects being considered by the City of Cape Town, allowing for potential synergies to be explored. Having already commenced the construction of their own 5 MW solar power plant, RDM intends to leverage the experience gained to effectively contribute to these additional projects in partnership with the City of Cape Town.

In the future, RDM plans to manufacture green hydrogen on-site, convert boilers to natural gas, and eventually incorporate green hydrogen into its boiler systems. Helmsen expressed the company’s desire to be a provider of electricity security, not just military security. RDM is also exploring opportunities to contribute to the Western Cape’s plan of taking up to five cities off the grid, as part of the region’s efforts to eliminate load-shedding.

RDM is firmly committed to green energy. During the fifth South Africa Investment Conference (SAIC) in April, the company pledged to invest R251 million in South Africa. Helmsen stated, “Alongside our export business, which accounts for 99% of our revenue generation, we want to become the energy partner for South Africa to support resolving the energy crisis. We remain committed to contributing to South Africa’s future by investing in technology, particularly renewable energy and infrastructure, and by developing and upskilling our workforce.”

RDM’s aspiration to become a world leader in the production and supply of green hydrogen is part of its significant investment in South Africa. Since the joint venture began in 2008, when Rheinmetall Waffe Munition acquired a controlling share in Denel Munition to form 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.