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‘E-mobility is coming. We have a lot of figuring out to do’

The fast-evolving automotive market is sending ripples of change downstream. Someone witnessing this first-hand is Ingrid Niessing, ceo of car recycling pioneer ARN. I sat down with her for our ‘women in scrap’ series.

Read the full interview in our latest issue >>

ARN currently caters to around 80% of the end-of-life vehicle market in the Netherlands. Having been at the wheel of the organisation for over 12 years, its ceo Ingrid Niessing realises that the cars we drive today aren’t the cars that were made 20 years ago. The female entrepreneur is eager to share her thoughts on what automotive recyclers may expect in the near future.

How many vehicles were recycled in 2021?

‘We treat about 180 000 to 195 000 vehicles every year. There are some minor ups and downs but, on the whole, the figure has been stable for a decade. Besides that, we operate SRN, which is dedicated to scooter recycling. We handle around 25 000 of those per annum.’

How do you view the car recycling market in the Netherlands?

‘I think we have created a solid car recycling infrastructure that serves as an example for other countries in Europe. ARN has achieved a 95%+ recycling rate for end-of-life vehicles and setting up a post-shredder residue (PST) facility in the city of Tiel was instrumental in that. It’s a result me and my team are proud of. On the other hand, we are looking ahead and don’t want to feel too comfortable by buying into the illusion that our work is done. There is always an opportunity to do better, to be more efficient.’

Did the pandemic have a big impact on your day-to-day operations?

‘I’m glad to say the pandemic didn’t really affect the volume of cars coming in for recycling or our operations in general. That’s because ARN is involved with the back-end of the automotive market. I know new car sales were significantly lower as we went in and out of lockdown – both in the Netherlands and abroad. The long-term effects of this aren’t visible yet. Because vehicles have an average life cycle of around 15 to 20 years, I doubt we will see a big difference down the line.’

Are there any exciting projects planned for 2022?

‘We are activelyinvestigating best practices for recycling electric vehicle (EV) batteries and are networking with industry stakeholders, including carmakers. The good news is that the infrastructure for charging electric cars is improving, though a lot is yet unclear on how they will be dealt with when the spark runs out. Who will be responsible? And for what part of the recycling process?’

Ingrid Niessing looks back on 12 years at ARN, where she started out as a CFO, before ‘passing the baton’ to her successor Paul Dietz later this month. Her team describes her as an honest, pragmatic and driven businesswoman – someone with her eye on the bigger picture.

‘I hear some carmakers wants to retain ownership of their batteries throughout the EV lifecycle. Does that mean it will have a dedicated take-back programme? Or will the recycling industry need to construct dedicated EV recycling hubs? If so, what’s the best location to build them? The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country so I doubt it would be here. Perhaps Germany? We have a lot of figuring out to do.’

What are your expectations for the next ten years?

‘As a realist I know it’s practically impossible to achieve a 100% recycling rate for cars. There will always be some losses in the value chain, no matter how advanced our systems and R&D efforts are. Moreover, it may not be economically feasible to recover every last per cent.’

‘The bigger picture is simple; the Netherlands doesn’t have a big car-making sector. We are good at many things but vehicles are typically made elsewhere: in Germany, in Japan, in the US, in France… What we are able to recycle many years from now is down to these countries creating vehicles that are made to be recycled in the first place. We are only the facilitators. The change is what we make happen together.’

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