Garysburg, United States – Silverleen Alston recalls when nothing but brooding groves of sweetgums, oaks and cypress trees surrounded her family home in the small town of Garysburg, in North Carolina’s Northampton County.
But those trees are long gone, replaced by rows of fast-growing pines that help feed the hulking wood mill standing less than a half-mile (800 metres) from her back yard.
At the plant, owned by Maryland-based Enviva, trees are dried and pressed into small, uniform pellets. The facility is one of four the company runs in the state, and it is part of a booming industry in the country’s southeast, where a dozen companies churn out more than 10 million tonnes of wood pellets a year.
Much of this output is exported to Europe and burned for energy that counts towards green goals.
In 2009, the European Union committed to obtaining 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 – and burning wood for fuel was considered a zero-emissions renewable source.