CHANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - French utility Suez SA (SEVI.PA) will focus on hazardous waste treatment as its main growth area in China, a senior executive said on Wednesday, as it bids to play a bigger role in the country’s efforts to tackle pollution.
The firm launched a joint venture hazardous waste treatment plant with China Everbright International (0257.HK) in Changzhou, in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu, its third such plant in China. It aims to have five plants by the end of 2018 and in the future hopes to build two a year.
Suez is already involved in 70 water and waste joint ventures in China, but it is turning more toward hazardous chemical waste in a bid to find a niche in an increasingly saturated waste treatment market.
“We are much more competitive in this market than in municipal waste,” said Suez Vice President Bertrand Camus at a briefing at the Changzhou site.
Hazardous waste treatment has become a priority as China bids to remediate contaminated rivers and soil. The environment ministry vowed last month to improve the way dangerous materials are stored, transported and recycled.
The market is expected to be worth around 200 billion yuan ($31 billion) over the 2016-2020 period, the environment ministry’s official publication said last year. Domestic firms have also been undergoing a period of consolidation as they bid to qualify for big projects.
Suez has already had 14 years of experience running a treatment plant in Shanghai, which gives it a big advantage over domestic competitors, Camus said.
“This knowledge - we have it, and most of the local competitors don’t have it yet,” he said,
He added that while the technological gap was narrowing, Suez’s ability to provide comprehensive waste management solutions for customers also gave it an edge.
Total investment in the Changzhou facility was 329 million yuan and its processing capacity 30,000 tonnes per year.
Suez is currently building another plant in Taixing, also in Jiangsu, to serve customers in a new chemical industry park.
The plant will process 30,000 tonnes of waste annually, but has the space to expand to meet additional demand.
“The park is already saying the capacity is not enough so we may need to build another,” said Christophe Hazebrouck, Suez project manager at the facility.
Reporting by David Stanway, editing by David Evans