Ensuring R&D has an eye on the whole picture

EasyMining’s research and development engineers work on chemical processes that reclaim resources from waste and can potentially change the world. For Angela van der Werf, the team’s Group and Laboratory Manager, that means having an overview of aspects beyond just R&D.

29 Sep 2023

Originally from the Netherlands, van der Werf received her PhD in organic chemistry from Stockholm University in 2018. And she needed a break immediately after defending her dissertation. Five years of academia, culminating in writing and presenting a thesis under questioning, had taken a toll.

– So I hiked the Kungsleden (hiking trail in northern Sweden) with my boyfriend. When I came back, I was full of energy, and I was looking for something new. Most things out there were rather boring, van der Werf recalls.

There were opportunities that fit her speciality, but none mustered any excitement or interest. It was then, revitalised from her hiking trip in northern Sweden, that van der Werf came across a job ad at her old university department for EasyMining. It read: “Do you want to help change the world?”

– I was like: of course, I want to help change the world!

"When the technology is out there, it's going to make a difference"

For van der Werf, research and development work at EasyMining appeals on multiple levels. She’s doing something that fascinates her for a company with a mission she supports. 

– I can go to work, and I can be proud of the results. Not just because they're scientifically interesting but also because it's going to be out there. When the technology is out there, it's going to make a difference. It's going to make the world a little greener, she explains.

What’s more, EasyMining’s size and circumstances mean members of its R&D team have to engage with different aspects of the chemistry behind an innovative process instead of one single part. They also have to collaborate with different teams throughout the company. When van der Werf started in 2018, the R&D team handled most of the work scaling up technologies like Ash2Phos. The host of process engineers, market engineering experts, and others who have since joined EasyMining now do most of the work to turn the company’s circular innovations into industrial facilities. But the R&D team still plays a part, along with everything else.

– You can see so much of the whole process of developing. So, even if you work in R&D, you're not stuck to one thing. You really get an overview, seeing everything from R&D to almost full-scale plants and also being involved in these questions, says van der Werf.

As Laboratory Manager, Angela van der Werf focuses on the practicalities of running a lab for the R&D team, as well as working on her own experiments.

Motivating the team and running one’s own experiments

Along with the rest of the company, EasyMining’s R&D team has grown in recent years and continues to do so. In the summer of 2021, van der Werf took on the dual position of Group and Laboratory Manager to help fulfil the growing team’s needs.

As Laboratory Manager, van der Werf focuses on the practicalities of running a lab for the R&D team – dealing with things like budgets, equipment, and procedures. The Group Manager role, however, deals with everything related to people.

– It’s supporting this team of scientists in their job, everything from their development to their resource planning and more. Who is working on which projects? Which projects should we run? And how can they do it in a safe way? It’s also from a social-organisational perspective, so people can remain enthusiastic and feel good while doing the work.

At the same time, van der Werf has to manage that role with her own responsibilities as an R&D engineer, finding ways to work on her own experiments while also ensuring the team gets the support it needs. Balancing it all is a skill that takes time and effort to master.

– It's something where I had the opportunity to develop myself here at EasyMining. It's something I couldn't do before, but I can now.