Growing up on a farm surrounded by tractors, Johanna Mörtberg was no stranger to machinery. Having joined Kanthal, after a degree with a sustainability focus, she’s now in daily contact with heavy-duty production processes. “It’s the scope for environmental improvements that in part brought me to this industry,” she says.
“There wasn’t an ‘Aha!’ moment for me when thinking about my future career, but I knew I wanted to study something technical,” Johanna says about moving from Sweden’s sparsely populated northern interior to the industrial city of Luleå on the Baltic coast to study chemical engineering, specializing in sustainable mineral and metal winning.
The programme at Luleå University’s focus on sustainability appealed to her. Upon reflection, she realised that the mining and metal industries have great potential to contribute to the green shift. “The bigger the emissions, the bigger the opportunity to reduce them,” she says.
The Hybrit project, aiming for fossil-free steel production, is a good example, she points out. “The replacement of carbon with hydrogen, to reduce the iron oxide, makes it possible to use renewable energy sources for production,” she says. “Another example is our Kanthal products for electric heating systems, that pose an alternative to other types of heat sources.”
Part of her degree at Luleå was an internship in 2016 at a research company in Johannesburg, South Africa – a key hub in the global mining industry. “The internship covered everything from mineralogy and minerals processing to hydro- and pyrometallurgy, which are different methods to separate valuable material, such as metals, from the less valuable material,” she explains.
“I also spent part of my time in South Africa learning more about electrical furnaces, a field where Kanthal is recognized as global experts who are committed to electrifying heating systems,” she adds.
Johanna joined Kanthal in 2018 as a process developer at the production unit in Hallstahammar, Sweden. It’s been a steep learning curve. “Of course, I was nervous at first, but it’s always worth taking a chance when opportunities are presented to you,” she says.
Having compared notes with her former classmates who focus on specialized areas at other companies, Johanna sees the benefits of her being involved in the entire production process. The opportunity to learn is always present, she says, thanks to amazing colleagues who are willing to teach and explain their area of expertise. Ultimately, her driving forces are to learn and improve, always with sustainability is at the forefront of her mind.
“One element of working with sustainability is that the concept is fluid, the definition of what is sustainable today may not be the same in a year or two, and I believe we need to challenge every aspect possible in order to improve,” she says. “Working in this field poses a lot of complex questions, which is partly why I find it so interesting.”
“The key is to focus on a holistic view of the entire supply chain and placing demands not just on ourselves but on our subcontractors as well,” she explains. “So both, for example, addressing where you get your raw materials from to investing time and research into improving your own processes and products.”
“Sustainability is a moving target but there’s no doubt that this industry will make a significant contribution,” she concludes. “You can always make improvements and you can always do better.”
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