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What can we learn from each other without competing? That is the philosophy behind the Battery Competence Center

Jan van Meijl of VDL Groep, partner of the Battery Competence Center


Please introduce yourself!

My name is Jan van Meijl and I am Program Manager Green Transport Delta Electrification and Battery Life Cycle at VDL Groep. I have been working for this fantastic organization since 2005. Before I started working in my present role, I had various commercial roles within a number of VDL companies.

At the time when diesel was the dominant fuel, I was responsible for sales of public transport systems at VDL Bus & Coach Netherlands. In that period, it became clear that the energy transition was in progress and that, within the mobility sector, we also had to respond to that transition. That is why we developed our basic E-mobility philosophy in 2013 and started to implement this philosophy right away. Resulting in, for example, the electric busses that have been driving around Eindhoven since 2016.

One of VDL’s strengths is that we are an entrepreneurial company. We are always working towards developing relevant products or services for our customers. I am mainly tasked with thinking up ways to save on battery costs throughout the entire chain (from production to recycling) and putting these cost-saving ideas into practice, as part of a sustainable business model. That is why I am working with many other parties, including peer companies in the Battery Competence Center.

What does VDL do as part of the collaboration with the BCC and how are you involved?

We are one of the founders of the Battery Competence Center. With respect to the energy transition, access to knowledge, development and process optimization are crucial for companies. You cannot initiate a transition on this level on your own. You need a variety of disciplines, including companies and knowledge institutes, and the public authorities. Moreover, to achieve something, you need a common voice that expresses both the positive and negative aspects to get the dialogue going. The BCC is the ideal platform to organize such collaboration.

As partners of the BCC, we can bring up themes that have been put into practice and increase the effective collaboration with other parties. For example; by working together, we can make sure that the available national and international resources reach the right companies in the correct way and that they are used properly. ‘What can we learn from each other without competing?’ That is the philosophy behind the BCC. The BCC enables its partners to focus on development, strengthen one another and accelerate. This way, we can jointly increase our process and domain knowledge.

VDL’s added value in the BCC is our entrepreneurial spirit. We are pioneers and are therefore the first to know what is happening in the market. Meaning that we can sometimes do things that are more difficult for other companies, which allows us to boost developments.


In what way is VDL helping to solve the global challenges?

Ultimately, I think you can make a distinction: VDL is a company and our ultimate goal is to maintain continuity, to pass the company on to the next generation in a sustainable way. You need sufficient customers to be able to do that. And to acquire customers, you need to stay relevant and add value. To remain relevant, it is important that you offer the best solutions for the problems your customers are faced with. With respect to mobility, the transition to zero-emission vehicles is a good example. By taking the lead and being the best in this field, we, as VDL, get the opportunity to be relevant.

And then there are the social themes. Climate, emissions, issues with respect to raw materials, sustainability... Those are the themes that concern us all and that have been more relevant than ever in recent years. As company, we need to select the themes where we can have the most impact or that can help us stay relevant. That is why we try to create conditions for sound business operations based on those social themes. We mainly do that for the ‘worlds’ that are relevant to VDL: Mobility, Science, Technology & Health, Energy & Sustainability, Infratech and Foodtech.

How will the innovations of the Battery Competence Center affect the Dutch citizens?

Ten years ago, many wondered whether E-mobility was merely a hype or here to stay. By now, we can say that E-mobility or electrification is a trend that is here to stay. Coal-fired plants are being replaced by solar and wind energy and we are switching from diesel-engine vehicles to electric vehicles. The Dutch citizens will find that this drastic change in the familiar energy system will not be without consequences.

The BCC is doing its utmost to create solutions in the field of electrification and battery capacity. We mainly focus on mobility, aviation, the maritime sector and stationary applications. As a result, all knowledge and expertise are available at a national level. We are developing products and are training people to help shape the transition.

We should no longer consider the energy transition a regional or national problem. The fact that we depend on fossil raw materials is a global issue. Creating awareness for energy dependence and the impact of a not properly organized energy supply have become social themes. As a result, many have become interested and want to help develop solutions. So, the BCC is looking into ways to reduce our dependence on foreign countries. By developing our own systems, products and technologies, we try to minimize the impact of the transition.


What parties do you want to work with to achieve success and what are the topics people can contact you for?

The reason why we have electric busses is because we have set ourselves a goal for the future, both at a national and European level. Without that goal, we will continue to swim in circles, trying to convince one another that we are right. By cooperating with other partners in the BCC, we are able to speak with one voice and jointly shape a dialogue towards one single image for the future. Besides, it allows the public authorities and the industry to quickly interact with one another. That future goal and the public policies give companies a framework to work within. Allowing us to develop products that remain valuable.

We are interested in parties that can help improve the alignment between public policies and the industry. And in parties that can convince companies that are struggling with the policies to join the BCC. So we can jointly learn how to align the development flows.

The BCC is a partnership that allows all partners to selflessly share their knowledge and helps them accelerate with respect to the topics that are relevant to them. We succeed in doing that, because we train the people we need, develop the products that are necessary and establish a public private partnership that allows us to compete internationally. If we cannot provide an appropriate response to the public private partnership in which billions of euros go to French and German companies, the competitive position of the Netherlands will be jeopardized, which will have a negative effect on employment. If the Netherlands wants to play a relevant role in the energy transition, we, as companies, have to define that partnership. And we need each other to do that. Anyone who is willing to help can call me.