The world has only enough oil for 40 more years use as a transport fuel, and gas-powered vehicles will be similarly affected  within 60 years — that’s the warning from New Zealander Pete Bethune, owner of the record-breaking powerboat Earthrace and a former oil exploration engineer.

Mr Bethune docked in Ballina today to show Earthrace to the public and to spread the message of biofuels, which he used to power Earthrace when she set a world record in June this year for a powerboat to circle the globe – smashing the old record by more than two weeks.

The 24,000 nautical mile journey, which took 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes, was completed on 100 per cent renewable biodiesel fuel with a net zero carbon footprint.

Mr Bethune worked in North Sea oil exploration and says that in the 1990s, he ‘started to feel uneasy’ about oil’s future as a readily available energy source for transport. “I felt a growing unease about our dependence on oil,” he told Far North Coaster.

He studied alternative fuels, using his research to complete an MBA, and became convinced about biofuel as an alternative energy source.

But he stresses biofuels will not be the ultimate solution to future transport energy needs.

“Biofuels will become a part of the future but are not a magic bullet. They are an interim solution,” he said.

“Oil will be gone (as a transport energy source) in 40 years and gas will be gone within 60 years.”

The future of transport will rely heavily on public transport and smaller cars, Mr Bethune said.

He believes that Australia has a problem with rising salt levels, which makes parts of the country unsuitable for food production, but he says such land could produce biofuel crops.

However, he is critical of the Australian Government’s decision to invest $15 million in biofuel research.

“The United States is investing $10 billion,” he said. “Australia’s $15 million will only cover administration costs into research,” he said.

The futuristic Earthrace proved a popular drawcard in Ballina today, with a steady stream of adults and children taking advantage of on-board tours.

Mr Bethune is touring Australia before heading back to his home in Auckland, New Zealand. The trip is all about promoting biofuels and he hopes that Earthrace hopefully will give people ‘a positive attitude’ towards the alternative energy source.

Mr Bethune describes Earthrace as a wave-piercer and a storm-hardened boat. Instead of taking on a wave head-on, Earthrace can pierce the wave, going 5m under the water. She can reach a speed of 20 knots in an 8m sea.

He describes his experiences aboard Earthrace as a roller-coaster of emotions.

“It has provided me with the best and worst experiences of my life,” he said.

“I’ve been shot at by Columbians who thought I was running drugs, I have been in some very hairy storms, and I’ve wake-boarded on Loch Ness in Scotland.”

Mr Bethune also spent nine days detained under armed guard in Guatemala. Earthrace was involved in a collision with an unlit fishing vessel and the crew were ‘heavied’ by authorities until being cleared of causing the incident.

Highlights have included diving and fishing across the Pacific Ocean in areas seldom visited, but there has been no greater high than crossing the line in his record-breaking attempt.

“The record was special. It was the most amazing feeling crossing the finish line,” Mr Bethune said.

Mr Bethune managed the design and construction of Earthrace, but says he is neither a builder nor a designer of boats.

“I’m a conservationist, not a boatie,” he said.

“I had only about 100 hours up on a boat before getting this one.”

But the whole Earthrace concept was always his idea, and the record attempt was a way to achieve ‘Mana’ for biofuels (Mr Bethune says Mana is a Maori word meaning respect and prestige).

Earthrace is on the market for $US1.5 million, and Mr Bethune has had two interested buyers.

However, he believes that the world’s economic woes could see the sale become prolonged.

After such a sensational year, what does the future hold for Mr Bethune?

“I might get a haircut and a real job,” he said.

But if Earthrace fails to sell, that ‘real job’ could see him hit the headlines again.

“I’m going to go and hassle Japanese whalers if the boat doesn’t sell,” he said.