01 March 2023

Imagine spending a week in Brazil. Sun, beaches – and a global truck manufacturer wanting you to solve a logistics and sustainability-related problem. This is roughly what the spring semester will look like for two LiU students.

Students showing happiness after winning competition.
The LiU-students Matilde Coppye and Johan Westerberg as they won the semi final of Scania Inovathon. Hasse Almqvist
This is about Scania’s international innovation, logistics and sustainability competition for students: Inovathon 2022. And about Matilde Coppye and Johan Westerberg. Matilde from Belgium is studying for a Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Management at LiU. Johan is in his fifth year on the Master of Science in Industrial Engineering and Management Programme.

“I feel privileged to have received such a good introduction to a large enterprise,” says Matilde Coppye, who is now also doing her Master’s thesis at Scania in Södertälje.

Tests and a major competition

Following elimination rounds consisting of tests, interviews and a major competition, they have now qualified for the final in São Paulo. Their team consists of four more members; from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Lund University and Chalmers University of Technology. They are now preparing to compete against the best students from the Netherlands and Brazil.

During the last major competition, the four remaining Swedish teams spent three days at the Scania factory in Södertälje. They were given guided tours and inspirational lectures and met with young as well as older employees.

“I really appreciated meeting people in their working environment who could tell us about their jobs, careers, studies and the choices they made along the way,” says Johan Westerberg.

Sustainability work

Before the competition, they read up on Scania’s sustainability initiatives, so as to be able to solve realistic logistics problems and dilemmas in the area of sea and road transportation. This is an area presenting global sustainability problems. The students were tasked with recreating a sustainable value chain involving global transports.
“We had access to a conference room at the hotel. But there were so many other activities also, such as presentations and test drives of trucks. On our first evening, we got to the conference room at eight. And then we sat there for a long time,” says Johan Westerberg.
Late that night they came up with the winning solution.
“We just said: ‛Make a note of this idea and then we’ll go to bed’,” Matilde Coppye says, laughing.

Plastic products and empty cargo ships

Their idea is based on empty cargo ships on the world’s oceans. A huge share of global plastics production takes place in China and Taiwan and the products are shipped to Europe.

“But not as many products go the other way, back to Asia. The ships return with very little cargo, or empty. Filling these transports would mean pure profit, from an economic as well as climate perspective.”

They then started looking for products suitable for the return voyage. It was not long before they turned their attention to the overproduction of corn and sugar cane. The same crops that are used in the manufacture of bioplastics. And the world’s plastic products are often made in Asia.

“All corn is not used for food. A lot goes to waste. Some is sorted out and transformed into energy through biogas and combustion,” says Johan Westerberg.
Their team made a forceful argument for shipping the corn for bioplastics production in Asia. One of the benefits of this, they argued, would be that land that would otherwise have to be used for corn crops for bioplastics could be used to grow other food crops or forests.

Climate smart

“Using waste from Western crops for bioplastics not based on fossil oil is climate smart. And the cargo ships sail anyway,” says Matilde Coppye.

Pitching their idea to a jury was a crucial part of the competition. Their pitch was met with a rather special reaction:

“The jury didn’t question our idea much. And we could overhear them saying: ‛That’s smart and very innovative’.”

They were later told that they had made it, and now have a ticket to the finals in Brazil, to be held at the end of March 2023.

“We know very little of what awaits us. But we’re already sure that it will be an experience,” says Johan Westerberg.

What is your view on having such intensive contact with a global enterprise while still studying?

“Linköping University’s focus on contact with trade and industry and on training us to work in projects can only be good for us,” says Matilde Coppye, who is doing her Master’s thesis at Scania in Södertälje.