wood pellets

Dogwood Alliance

In 2017, Arkansas Public Media began to investigate the proliferation of industrial chip mills across the Deep South, including a newly opened mill in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The mills are grinding timber stands into millions of tons of wood pellets for export to fuel retrofitted coal fire plants in the European Union and United Kingdom, where biomass is classified and subsidized as clean renewable fuel.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

More than 150 wood pellet manufacturing mills operate across the U.S., many supplying the domestic woodstove pellet market with home heating fuel.

More than a quarter are industrial pellet mills, grinding thousands of acres of forest into biomass for overseas export to electrical utilities stoking retrofitted coal-fire furnaces with "densified" wood.

The largest mills, concentrated in the southeastern U.S., claim to sustainably harvest timber, from both hardwood and softwood forests. But a new mill, Highland Pellets in Pine Bluff, which harvests only fast-growing Southern softwood pine may be among the greenest.

Still, the calculated ecological costs and benefits of forest biomass remain hazy.