In the “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group highlights the sustainable contribution made by a wide range of people in the company – and the motivation that inspires them. Today: Jacob Hamar.
Sustainability has many facets at the BMW Group because we are using this term to harmonise business, the environment and society. If we are to successfully put these high standards into practice, we need our employees’ commitment. Everyone can play their part in making the BMW Group sustainable.
So, who are all these colleagues who make sustainability part of their everyday work? What drives them to roll up their sleeves throughout the company? In its “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group introduces employees who play their daily part in the broad and responsible further development of our company.
In this part of our series, Jacob Hamar, a PhD student in battery development at the BMW Group, describes how he and his colleague Sabrina Kolbeck initiated a project to supply social institutions in developing countries with clean energy from batteries taken from former development vehicles.
Jacob Hamar, you work in battery development and are doing a PhD on power engineering. Energy supply from renewable sources in developing countries is also on your mind. What are you planning?
Jacob Hamar: Our project is designed to support various CSR initiatives of the BMW Group – using vehicle batteries that are no longer needed. Our Corporate Social Responsibility embraces many different activities and they all need stable and sustainable energy supplies. We want to help here, and are able to.
How did you come up with this idea?
Hamar: I spent some time in a small town in Zimbabwe, Africa for my Master’s thesis. This was the only village within a radius of many kilometres that had a school and a hospital. We installed solar pumps there and quickly noticed that having reliable energy had a very positive effect on the economy and people’s lives. These were just very small solar pumps and batteries with a capacity of 10 to 15 ampere hours. By way of comparison: a BMW i3 battery manages 120 ampere hours. But you can supply a small school or hospital with light and the most essential electricity with even this small battery. Even so, it was always difficult to get such batteries. Back at BMW, I then discovered that there were many old vehicle batteries from development vehicles that we could use. And there is certainly no shortage of social initiatives that could use these batteries. My goal is to set up an infrastructure so that all these batteries can find a new home. So that after their initial use by BMW, they go safely and properly tested for their second use in a social project.
What is difficult about this project?
Hamar: Safety. We are talking about strong current here – you have to be careful with it. The PHEV batteries, for example, have not been developed to be used with a solar pump; so far, at best they have only had secondary use in industry. Then there are the local climate conditions, the heat, the dust. We also need to plan the process methodically from start to finish. How do the batteries get to their new home? Who finances the transport? How do they end up coming back here for recycling? These are the challenges.
And what helps to overcome these challenges?
Hamar: We’ve had opportunities to give presentations about our project again and again. After hearing about it, people have come up to us and offered help. Sometimes they are potential cooperation projects. But there are also quite pragmatic offers, when colleagues from the logistics department help us to get the right certificates for the transport and to solve the import challenges. There is an incredible amount of expertise available internally at BMW. We just need to bundle it. There is a huge amount of enthusiasm to support sustainability and social issues. Of course, that keeps us going!
Does your professional commitment also carry through into your private thinking and actions?
Hamar: It’s the other way round really. I always wanted to work with a social goal. That was important to me. We should always ask ourselves: How can we make the world a little bit better through the things we do? And I’m also learning an incredible amount. We made our first pitch in 2020 and presented our project. It took us a while to get anywhere with it, but we stuck with it and persisted – now it’s up and running. Sometimes the problem is not the idea, but just that you catch the wrong moment, or don’t talk to the right people. If you are persistent and believe in your goal, the right moment will come at some point. You meet the right people – and then it works out. In 2021, we got clearance to continue working on our project for the next two years. Our pilot project at a school in Rosslyn is fully funded by support from three departments, and we were invited to present at One Young World. I am very proud of that.
You are running the project alongside your work and your dissertation. What keeps you motivated every day?
Hamar: I wish that our world would develop in a positive way so that every person can live a good life in it. I want my work to contribute to this development.
Let’s say you meet Oliver Zipse, the Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, in the lift. He asks: “What can I do to help you make it a success?” You have one minute. What do you say?
Hamar: I don’t need the whole minute for that: I would ask him to give us formal instructions to use all batteries, wherever possible, for social purposes after their first use.
And when will it be good enough for you?
Hamar: When we can pledge to all our customers that the battery of their new electric car will be donated to a social cause at the end of its use.
In the upcoming portraits from our “WEffect” sustainability series, committed colleagues will also describe their motivation and explain the contribution they are making to sustainability within the BMW Group.