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.
MINI sustainability - Jacob Hamar - battery reuse specialist MINI sustainability - Jacob Hamar - battery reuse specialist

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?

Jacob 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?

Jacob 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.

MINI sustainability – Jacob Hamar – battery reuse MINI sustainability – Jacob Hamar – battery reuse

You are running the project alongside your work and your dissertation. What keeps you motivated every day?

Jacob 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.