UK scientist Roland Clift says biofuels are a scam in the tropics

Roland Clift, Professor of Environmental Technology and Director of the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey, is going to give biofuels a bad name this week at a seminar of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Specifically, he'll say the UK government's plan to promote biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) is a "scam." This according to the Times of London.
Clift is a senior science advisor to the government and his main gripe with biofuels is the way they are made in tropical areas: "Biodiesel is a complete scam because in the tropics the growing demand is causing forests to be burnt to make way for palm oil and similar crops. We calculate that the land will need to grow biodiesel crops for 70-300 years to compensate for the CO2 emitted in forest destruction," Clift told the Times.

Clift is willing to spread the negativity to the British style of making biodiesel from rapeseed, and the NOx it produces.

So, that's Clift's bad news. I agree with him that slashing and burning thousands of acres is not the best way to grow biofuel crops, but the simplistic "biofuels are a scam" line (which is how it gets spread), is just not defensible because it's not true. Commercial cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel production are a ways off, and people can disagree on the value of corn and sugar ethanol, but is it a scam to make biodiesel (a biofuel, natch) from used cooking oil? No. Clift's words are going to make things uglier before they do us any good.

[Source: Jonathan Leake and Steven Swinford / Times of London]

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