My Herald on Sunday column about the Earthrace team abandoning their bid to circumnavigate the globe in their bio-diesel powered boat. The boat cracked after receiving a battering in the Mediterranean but it looks like the team may make a fresh attempt next year. Here’s hoping it’s smoother sailing second time around…
They had a futuristic-looking boat, the noble intention of powering it with clean-burning biodiesel and the goal of motoring around the world in record time.
But the Earthrace expedition, its largely New
The Earthrace boat cracked after receiving a major pounding in the Mediterranean and the time it would take to haul it out of the water and repair it would have made it impossible for the team to make the dash to
Following the race on the internet, I was relieved when the boat successfully passed through the Suez Canal and into what I thought would be the relative safety of the
If that wasn’t enough, it was also dogged by funding shortfalls and engine and propeller problems.
Reading the blog postings on the Earthrace website gives you an appreciation for the courage Bethune displayed in carrying on despite all these set backs.
On March 28 he writes of meeting the family of the fisherman killed in the crash with the skiff: “All were there except for Gonzalez, the man still in hospital. I start to speak to the group and there’s already a sore ache in my throat. Thirty seconds later and I start to cry, and that just sets of a chain reaction amongst almost everyone there.”
A few weeks later, with Earthrace plagued with technical problems, he ponders: “What if the crash hadn’t occurred? What if the original propellers had been OK? A whole series of incidents, that sees us in a difficult situation on a tiny Pacific island.”
It would have been nice to see Earthrace complete the 24,000 nautical mile trip and slip into
Well, the crew was interviewed wherever they touched land and pushed the biodiesel message. I saw Bethune on CNN late one night with a reporter from
It wasn’t the biodiesel that held back Earthrace, though getting a regular supply of it, particularly in the
Biodiesel production and usage is growing quickly around the world and new methods of biodiesel production are constantly appearing.
But in the
According to a study by economists at
Corn-based ethanol production could grow to 15 billion gallons per year over the next 10 years according to the study which argues that further Government subsidies will have to be made available to encourage investment in biodiesel refineries.
In general, the business model for producing biodiesel still has plenty of kinks in it and will do until government policies to promote its production are widespread and crop growers and biodiesel makers alike are able to make a reasonable rate of return from their alternative fuel investments. The buy-in of the consumers of oil is also crucial.
The trials and tribulations of Earthrace are synonymous to those of the biodiesel industry itself. But like Earthrace’s goal to get around the world in less than 75 days was ultimately achievable, so too is a viable, global industry in cleaner fuels. It won’t be easy to get there, but as Bethune can attest to, its one goal worth making a considerable effort to meet.