Why an agronomist works at EasyMining
Therese Åström has been passionate about agriculture since she was a teenager. At EasyMining, she plays an essential role in developing solutions that can lead to the sustainable farming of the future.
Therese Åström admits she didn’t know anything about EasyMining before she saw the company’s job listing for a “plant nutrient specialist” in 2021. But as she learned more about the position and the company, she knew she wanted to work there.
At the time, Åström was a relatively recent graduate with a degree as an agriculture technician. The open position caught her eye because it was in her field. She then became intrigued as she read about the Swedish innovation company dedicated to closing nutrient cycles and inventing technology for creating circular alternatives to critical agricultural materials.
– I had never heard of EasyMining. I was just searching for job opportunities and stumbled over it, Åström explains. I got really curious since I really believe in sustainability and working for the environment.
She quickly applied for the job and got it. Now, Åström is an integral part of adapting EasyMining’s processes for reclaiming nutrients to wide-scale commercial use in fertilisers, which can become sustainable alternatives to major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture industry.
– It's really relevant in the world right now, says Åström, who then adds: And it's very exciting and fun!
Drawn to working (and living) on the farm
Åström says her interest in agronomy and the farm industry was first piqued when she encountered it in school as a teenager. Originally from Stockholm, her family owns and operates a transport company. But something about farming captivated her. It wasn’t just growing crops and raising livestock, there was also a business and operations side of things.
After a few years working on different farms – mainly animal production, pigs mostly – Åström wanted to learn more. In 2018, she began a two-year program at Biologiska Yrkeshögskolan (biological vocation school) that mixed learning agricultural theory with work experience.
– It's a very broad education adapted to the current labour market. They change the courses depending on what the market is looking for. I focused a lot on the business but also took deep dives in crop cultivation and animal production and so on, says Åström.
Today, Åström actually lives on a farm just outside of Västerås. A crop farm of about 1,000 hectares, it’s run by her partner and his family. Åström says she helps out when she can, mostly during the harvest.
– It’s a good way to keep myself updated on what happens in agriculture on a daily basis, she explains.
Creating sustainable solutions for agriculture
Based out of EasyMining’s office in Uppsala, Åström focuses on product development for the end results of innovative reclamation methods.
– Mainly my task is to figure out the best forms for the nutrients we produce in our processes and how they will be sellable on the fertiliser market. So I need to know what demands the customers have and what regulations we need to follow, she explains.
Much of Åström’s time in the last year has been spent on EasyMining’s Aqua2N process, which recovers nitrogen from the liquid that’s separated out of sewage sludge in wastewater treatment plants. (Read more about Aqua2N here)
According to Åström, while research is a big part, it’s collaboration – both with those inside and outside the company – that’s at the core of her work, such as coordinating feedback on samples produced by the Aqua2N pilot plant.
– I get input from possible customers, like “the pH is too high” and then I need to take that and review it together with the chemists and engineers and say “Can we change the process to get the product to where the customers want it?” she explains.
The procedure has to be done over and over again to ensure every necessary adjustment can be made so that reclaimed nitrogen can compete in the fertiliser market. And that’s not just for commercial gain. Studies show that traditionally-sourced nitrogen fertilisers are responsible for more than 2% of total global climate emissions, largely due to the use of fossil fuels. Processes like Aqua2N can dramatically reduce those emissions.
– We need fertilisers if we are going to feed the growing population. So if we want to be successful in decreasing our environmental footprint and at the same time produce food for the whole world, we really need to use the recycled nutrients that we already have, says Åström.