China is undertaking yet another ambitious development just outside Shenzhen in southern China. The facility that will become the world’s largest waste-to-energy plant, once operational, will be capable of processing 5,000 tonnes of waste each day. The plant will generate electricity for Shenzhen’s 20 million people, who produce around 15,000 tonnes of waste daily.
The plant generates energy by capturing heat from incinerating waste material, which drives a turbine to generate electricity. Burning waste does release harmful CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, but according to the architects of the plant, at half the level of an average landfill site – where much of Shenzhen’s waste ends up. However , the Shenzhen plant and has still been met with opposition from local residents and environmental groups who fear it will emit dangerous levels of dioxins and other toxins.
There is significant demand for the development of waste-to-energy technologies. According to the World Energy Council the global market is estimated to be worth $40 billion by 2023. China leads the way in this market, as they have the largest installed waste-to-energy capacity of any country, with more than 300 plants in operation. Chinese waste-to-energy conversion capacity has increased annually by 26 percent over the past five years, compared with just 4 percent average growth in capacity in OECD countries.
The new Shenzhen plant will process nearly a third of the city’s current daily waste output, and generate solar power via the 40,000 solar panels installed on the roof. However, waste-to-energy conversion is not a long term solution to China’s growing trash problem. Although they are certainly not alone in facing a trash overload, according to World Bank figures, China generates more waste than any other country and their waste output is growing at 7 percent annually.