Shenzhen waste-to-energy plant

Mixing cutting-edge sustainable infrastructure with an almost science fiction aesthetic, the Shenzhen East waste-to-energy project is one of a kind.

With more than 20 million residents, Shenzhen in the southern province of Guangdong is the third most populous city in China. It is also the world’s fourth busiest container port, contributing to the city’s reputation as a global centre for research, manufacturing, trade and transport.

Known as China’s Silicon Valley, the city is home to major tech companies, such as Huawei and Tencent, with the Chinese government using Shenzhen as a model example for urban development.

The city’s population has nearly doubled over the last 10-15 years, while its manufacturing sector has experienced a similarly exponential expansion. This has come with concerns over pollution for the city’s residents experiencing low air quality and for the stunning Pearl River Delta on which Shenzhen is located.

The city undertook a concerted policy of environmental protections, building a vast network of sewage treatment plants and pipes. It also rolled out an all-electric bus fleet in 2018, following this up with a fleet of taxis that now means 99% of the city’s taxis are electrically powered.

Shenzhen waste-to-energy
The plant will generate 550 million kWh of electricity a year

Waste not, want not

In late 2019, the city also revamped its waste management programme, implementing new recycling guidelines supported by a system of cash incentives and government fines. Undoubtedly one of the jewels at the crown of Shenzhen’s sustainability push is the instantly iconic waste-to-energy plant.

Situated on a mountainous region on the outskirts of the city, the site is able to handle 5,000 tonnes of waste a day – handling roughly one-third of Shenzhen’s entire waste output that would otherwise end in landfill and generating 550 million kWh of electricity a year.

Using precision manufactured structural steel, the entire complex is contained within a single circular facility

From the six heavy duty, high temperature combustion grates at its centre where the waste is incinerated, to the swooping structural curves of the main building, steel is at the heart of this project.

Using precision manufactured structural steel, the entire complex is contained within a single circular facility. This design diverges from the clusters of rectangular buildings that traditionally make up infrastructure of this kind, minimising the plant’s footprint and reducing the need for excavation works.

The plant’s 66,000 m² roof is also covered with 44,000 m² of solar panels, allowing the facility to provide its own sustainable power, as well as providing a surplus to the city itself.


A shining example

The site will be more than just a modern technical solution for tackling Shenzhen’s waste problem, it will also include a set of visitor facilities that offer an unparalleled look at the inner workings of a waste-to-energy plant.

Visitors will be able to take tours along elevated walkways that offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the plant’s gleaming photovoltaic roof.

Representing a new gold standard for large-scale industrial facilities, the Shenzhen waste-to-energy plant has exploited the architectural possibilities unlocked by steel to create a unique building that minimises its impact on the environment without compromising on aesthetics.


Images: schmidt hammer lassen