“On a soggy field in eastern North Carolina, Jason Tew and his crew of loggers are cutting trees and sorting logs into piles based on their size and the type of wood. There's a lot of pine, but also hardwoods: poplar, sweet gum, elm and oak. Some piles will go for making plywood; some will become absorbent fiber in baby diapers.
The least valuable pile is full of small hardwood tree limbs. ‘It's basically trash,' Tew says. ‘We would have normally hauled that back in the woods and just left it.'
In the last few years, though, new buyers for that wood have appeared. These ‘pellet mills' take the wood, crush it, and press it into little pellets made for burning. They've been expanding rapidly across the southeastern United States, and they're provoking heated debate over what deserves to be called ‘renewable fuel.'”