From Lab Testing to Vehicle Scrapping: Rachel Agar’s Engineering Journey at Nissan

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As Nissan drives towards a cleaner, safer, more inclusive world, a key priority for the business is building a diverse workforce, representative of the customers Nissan serves. Rachel Agar – a Senior Environmental Engineer working within Nissan Manufacturing UK (NMUK)’s Manufacturing Strategy and Planning Office – has worked at Nissan for 12 years and is passionate about getting more women and girls to explore a career in environment, engineering, and the automotive industry. In light of Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June, Rachel shares what her role within Nissan entails, as well as her hopes for the future of women in the industry.

Rachel admits it herself, her route to Nissan was hardly conventional. Having studied Environmental Biology and Environmental Management at University, her first job was in a lab, analysing DNA samples for criminal trials. From there, she worked as an Environment Officer for the UK Environment Agency before a desire to move into an industry environment saw her take up a position at Nissan.

It was the launch of the LEAF that inspired her to apply for a role at Nissan. “For someone with an environmental focus, the electrification and the first mainstream EV was a big draw”. It is no coincidence that she has continued to play a key part in Nissan’s sustainability push at NMUK, honouring the legacy of the LEAF in the process.

Rachel now helps to drive forward Nissan’s sustainability targets for the European region. Her current focus is on the end-of-life of Nissan vehicles from across the European region, ensuring the process is as sustainable as possible, and developing systems to ensure  batteries from the models can be recycled or enjoy productive second lives.

This is a role that carries a lot of responsibility, from liaising with numerous stakeholdersboth within Nissan AMIEO and globally but also working with recycling service providers across the region. Having networks in place to manage scrap vehicles is key to ensuring vehicles are correctly recycled at end-of-life stage. Vehicle recycling encompasses multiple stages, the vehicle is depolluted including battery removal, parts suitable for reuse are removed, followed by shredding & segregation of remaining materials.

Rachel says that people are often surprised that her job actually exists, with many not realising the “complexity that’s involved with regards to the recycling processes”. She is keen to emphasise that her role is evidence that recycling & reuse is a crucial topic, particularly with regard to batteries. “It is important to try and extend the useful life of the batteries for as long as possible” and from a recycling perspective, “it’s important that the batteries are recycled correctly to prevent environmental harm and loss of materials” As the transition to electrification continues, it is inevitable that the recycling of electric vehicle batteries will become more significant, and this is something Rachel and her team are determined to drive forward across the region.

Rachel admits that Nissan’s diversity goals had a long way to go when she joined 12 years ago. “When I first walked into the engineering office, there were not many women there!” adding that gender disparity in automotive is “definitely starting to change.” She has witnessed over her years at Nissan a greater balance in terms of gender representation.

When it comes to the steps needed to inspire more women and girls to join her field, Rachel is clear that a change is needed. “There needs to be a continued focus at school level… I think the biggest thing that can be done to encourage women into the industry is to make them aware of the diverse opportunities that are available to them and where a role in science and engineering can lead”.

While Rachel is something of a trailblazer, she is keen to inspire more women to follow in her footsteps across the industry, not only playing a role in boosting diversity, but also increasing sustainable improvement.

When asked what her advice would be to women and girls seeking to follow in her footsteps, she stated “I would tell them to investigate the opportunities that are available. By utilising engineering & environmental principles, you can make a big impact within the automotive industry and at the same time drive environmental improvements. Many of the activities now being carried out by the automotive industry also have a benefit to the environment and this provides opportunity to develop a good career and be involved in lots of interesting projects”.