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Keeping the wonder - Evy de Bruycker, Laborelec
Portraits 25/01/2023

Keeping the wonder - Evy de Bruycker, Laborelec

Evy de Bruycker has lived in Ghent all her life and has been working at Laborelec for 15 years, having studied Chemical Engineering and earning a PhD in Materials Science.She sees herself as an investigator of materials, in a way, especially metals.  However, she is a person of many facets, some of which we invite you to find out about here. 

You can often find yourself thinking: “wow, it’s great that we as human beings really can do this”. And this keeps me hopeful for the future.

We really have to change our ways, and this makes it very interesting to work in the energy business because these days, you see a lot of changes and you have to be a part of them.


Did you choose energy because you were interested in the topic or by chance?

It was more a decision in favour of Laborelec. I was looking for something that was not purely research but also not purely industrial manufacturing either. Laborelec is a service centre that bridges the two. We help industry, but we also do applied research, and that was a nice fit for me.
I started at Laborelec immediately after finishing my PhD. It was my first job and I've now been working here for over 15 years. And so, over these years I've gained experience in all sorts of materials-related problems and worked on interesting cases as well.

Can you give us a few examples of what you worked on?

 If any problems arise with materials in a power plant, then we give assistance. This can range from addressing leaks in the boiler tubes at a conventional power plant, to extending the lifetime of a gas turbine or, for instance, responding to problems in the reactor pressure vessels of the nuclear power plants in Belgium. Another more recent example has to do with the hydrogen transition in the energy sector: we are investigating the impact of the hydrogen transported in pipelines or injected in gas turbines. 

If you had to sum up your job in a few words, what would they be?

What we do is a bit like what happens in an aircraft crash investigation, where afterwards, the teams sort through the debris to find that one piece that caused the accident. It can be less drastic because sometimes the leak is small. But we are always looking for this missing piece of the puzzle: where did it start and what was really the root cause of the problem?

Do you always have to work once the problem has occurred, or do you also try to prevent accidents? 

Well, if a problem has occurred, then it's important to know what caused it just to make sure it doesn't happen again to similar components. However, we also determine such things as the components’ remaining lifetime. So we look at the material to see to what extent it has aged, and whether  it is close to the end of its life-cycle, or can continue on for a couple of years. That’s also something we do to prevent problems, of course.

What do you enjoy in particular in your work?

I enjoy solving complicated puzzles, and try to find all the parameters that caused a particular problem to occur. It’s about determining how we can prove that this was the cause and how we can prevent it in the future. So it’s a bit like detective work, or investigating.

Have you ever run into things that were really difficult to investigate?

One big challenge was the discovery of the internal cracks in our reactor pressure vessels, as it is something that is not so easily repaired or fixed. As a result, we ran a large-scale case to prove that it was not an immediate danger, and could continue to operate them. And the interesting thing was that there were a lot of external and internal experts involved, and we all worked on the project together. I learned a lot from the experience, both technically and as far as interacting with people is concerned.

Outside work, do you have other passions or things you like to do?

To relax a bit, I like to immerse in a good book, but also enjoy going out for a nature walk with my dog. I find that really relaxing. My husband and I also do ballroom dancing.

Is this more waltz, or tango?

All of them, from cha-cha to waltz and slow foxtrot!

Is there one dance you enjoy in particular?

The English waltz is one of my favourites. It's a bit slower paced than the Viennese waltz, and has a more flowing motion, so it's nice, you can let yourself go to the music. 

How do you think research and innovation are important for the Group?

Since I've been working at Laborelec, I’ve seen the energy scene change quite a bit. When I started, it was all about coal power plants and gas turbines. Now, it is more focused on renewables and flexibility.
We are really in the middle of a transition, which means that we have new applications coming up. For this, research and innovation are really necessary, because it’s still very much uncharted territory. That’s why I think it’s really important to stay on top of the game and be a first-mover in implementing new things.

You said the energy scene is changing. How do you see the future of energy?

We clearly see something is already happening. We are already faced with the consequences of climate change, with long dry periods, followed by lots of storms. So I am a little worried, but at the same time, I want to stay positive that we can still do something about it. 
However, this means that change needs to happen soon and be significant. We really have to change our ways, and this makes it very interesting to work in the energy business because these days, you see a lot of changes and you have to be a part of them.

What would you like to be doing in 10 years’ time?

Since the beginning of last year, I have been working in a people management role. So I’m now partly materials expert, partly people manager.
It's refreshing to have this new perspective and new area in which I can also grow. In 10 years, then, I hope that I will have grown both as an expert and a people manager. That being said, I do see myself still being involved with ENGIE, because I have found my place here.

Is there a quote or saying that means a lot to you?

The quote I quite like is “It’s still magic even if you know how it's done”. It’s from a fantasy author, Terry Pratchett.
For me it’s important, being an engineer and knowing a lot about how things work, just to keep the sense of wonder and, for instance, be able to see a plane and think: “OK, this is a huge plane, it is flying and this is fantastic” -- even if you know how it works.  Looking at things from this perspective of wonder, you can often find yourself thinking: “wow, it’s great that we as human beings really can do this”. And this keeps me hopeful for the future.

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