Energy-hungry South Africa still generates 90 percent of its electricity from mostly outdated coal-fired power plants. Most of them are technically outdated, poorly maintained and dilapidated. The power utility Eskom regularly shuts off the power completely. Whole districts and regions are then cut off from the power supply for hours. By 2050, however, renewable energies are to replace these fossil fuels in South Africa. This is one of the reasons why RDM is working on generating green energy for more than just its own needs. Driven by the innovation gene typical of Rheinmetall, the 2550 employees are using their know-how to find new ways of generating energy.
RDM CEO Jan-Patrick Helmsen, 42, describes how all this works and how new business areas are emerging from the goal of achieving CO2 neutrality by 2035. He leaves no doubt that he thinks nothing of fine announcements and all the more of intelligent solutions: Don't talk - do!
Thinking in solutions
RDM's strategy in terms of energy and CO2 footprint is initially explained by the need to supplement and ultimately replace a chronically unreliable power supply fed from external sources with its own resources. Less CO2 is produced at RDM through many different measures. These include the conversion of the entire vehicle fleet for the internal transport of goods - 350 vehicles - to electric drive and their supply with specially designed charging stations from in-house solar farms. Two new electric buses for internal passenger transport, other small vehicles and an eScooter system similar to those that are part of urban mobility concepts in Europe are the first step and complement the RDM fleet. The company's own kindergarten "Bundle Of Joy" also produces its own electricity via solar panels and is already CO2-neutral. This kindergarten prepares not only Rheinmetall's offspring, but also the children of the neighboring neighborhoods and especially the children of the adjacent township for an educational future. What fits better than an independent and green energy supply of the future - today.
Using existing knowledge in a new way
Green energy from the sky
Solar plants in South Africa can generate about four times as much electricity as in Germany because of the more intense solar radiation. This is an advantage in the direction of "green hydrogen," which can be produced CO2-neutrally with electricity from large solar farms. Cooperation agreements on this subject were already concluded between Germany and South Africa under Chancellor Angela Merkel. They are intended to contribute to solving the energy problems of both countries and also contribute to the goal of CO2 neutrality. At the end of May 2022, the topic was further advanced by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during his visit to South Africa in talks with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Similar talks on the German side are taking place with Australia, among others.
The future is happening now
How does the topic of green hydrogen fit in with RDM's core business? As a company in the chemical industry, RDM works on the development, production and sale of large-caliber ammunition for artillery, warheads and propulsion systems for rockets, and also on the production of explosives for the mining industry, as well as in the production of aluminum sulfate for drinking water treatment in the Western Cape region. In addition, there is the design and construction of industrial plants (plant engineering).
Vertical integration at RDM is almost 100 percent. In other words, RDM does practically everything itself and is not dependent on outside know-how in almost any area. Of course there are suppliers - in South Africa alone there are around 1,500 - but in no case is it a question of buying in knowledge. The Plant Engineering division therefore combines chemical expertise with comprehensive knowledge of plant engineering. These are the perfect prerequisites for green hydrogen projects.
Rheinmetall Green H2 system - example of a mobile application
The math works out
RDM owns 5500 hectares of company-owned land, or 55 million square meters. Enough space to build solar farms. Even with conservative calculations, the production of several gigawatt hours of electricity per year is possible.
If RDM makes full use of these capacities, the company will not only be able to meet its electricity needs in a CO2-neutral way, but will also be able to sell environmentally friendly electricity and the hydrogen produced in its own plants on a large scale. And the oxygen that is also produced during electrolysis is a sought-after commodity in hospitals.
"We are at the beginning of a large and rapidly advancing energy industry that is being redefined. We want to be part of this development from the very beginning and establish Rheinmetall as a green energy supplier in South Africa!" says Jan-Patrick Helmsen.