Baseload, Bioenergy

Chinese Waste-to-energy Market Experiences Rapid Growth During Last Five Years

China’s waste incineration sector has experienced rapid growth from 2011 to 2015 — a period encompassing the government’s 12th five-year plan. Chinese waste-to-energy plants that have either been operational or under construction are expected to number over 300 by the end of 2015, when China’s annual solid waste incineration capacity is forecast to reach 100 million tons, according to the government’s guidelines.

Fu Tao, director of the Environmental Protection Industry Research Center, School of Environment, Tsinghua University, suggested that the Chinese government put in place policies to encourage power generation based on waste incineration as part of its effort to adjust the mix of energy sources. The effort is a component of the country’s planned economic transformation. The future holds great promise for China’s waste-to-energy sector, according to Fu. 

Statistics show that China’s annual urban solid waste generation is expected to reach nearly 200 million tons this year and exceed 230 million tons by 2020. China had 138 waste incineration plants in operation in 2012 with aggregate processing volume exceeding 35 million tons, making China the country with the world’s largest amount of waste incineration, according to data from the National Center of Solid Waste Management, a research unit under the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Several publicly listed Chinese environmental protection companies have utilized their capital advantage to expand into the rapidly growing waste-to-energy sector. Everbright International has acquired a number of waste-to-energy facilities in several Chinese cities since 2013, including Rizhao and Heze in Shandong province, Ninghai in Zhejiang province and Zhenjiang in Jiangsu province.  

Currently, China has 20 waste-to-energy plants in operation spread across 15 cities, including Zhuhai, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Shaoxing. The first such plant was established in Shenzhen, Guangdong province in 1985. Chinese cities identified as having a daily waste incineration capacity of 1,000 tons or more number in the several dozens. Statistics show that China now has over 140 waste-to-energy plants that have either been completed, are under construction or have been proposed for construction.  

At present, Beijing Chaoyang Green Power Station is the largest waste-to-energy plant in China with daily waste incineration of 1,300 tons and annual power generation of 136 million kW/h. The second phase of the power station, scheduled to be completed at the end of this year, is expected to increase the facility’s annual power generation to 225 million kW/h. In addition, Beijing plans to invest some 2 billion yuan (approx. US$322 million) in building an additional four waste-to-energy plants that will use imported equipment. 

Industry analysts indicated that despite the promising prospects, the waste-to-energy market is facing a number of growth barriers, including difficulties in receiving waste treatment subsidies from the government, lower feed-in tariffs as well as lack of government subsidies and support at the local level in many jurisdictions coupled with the immaturity of waste-to-energy technology. Nevertheless, several Chinese universities, including Peking and Tsinghua, scientific institutions, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and environmental protection companies have already seen their efforts in the research and development of waste treatment technologies pay off. 

The analysts added that the Chinese government would be well advised topromote the industrialization of the waste-to-energy market by updating existing legislation, upgrading the architecture, manufacturing processes and specifications, and increasing the research and development of waste-to-energy technologies and equipment.  

Lead image: Biogas plant. Credit: Shutterstock.