MTSU alternative fuels expert Dr. Cliff Ricketts firmly believes he can drive coast-to-coast on 10 gallons of gasoline or less.
Ricketts, a 35-year agriscience professor at MTSU, plans to put his research to the test in both 2012 and 2013.
Ricketts’ first quest to travel the approximately 2,532-mile distance from Tybee Island and Savannah, Ga., to Long Beach, Calif., will begin Sunday, March 4.
Using two alternative-fuel vehicles in the first 916 miles of the journey from Savannah to Fort Smith, Ark., Ricketts’ fuel sources will be the sun (solar) and hydrogen from water in a 2005 Toyota Prius and 1994 Toyota Tercel.
After leaving two vehicles in Fort Smith, Ricketts says the remaining approximately 1,616 miles to Long Beach will be with a plug-in hybrid 2007 Prius using E95 (95 percent ethanol and 5 percent gas) and electric (two, 10-kilowatt-hour battery packs) that should go “100 miles per gallon for about 200 miles until the batteries run down and then purely on ethanol only the rest of the way.”
“My goal is to drive across the country on less than 10 gallons of gas,” Ricketts says.
Next year, Ricketts plans to make the coast-to-coast trip on sun and water.
As of March 2, AAA reports national average gas prices to be $3.74 for regular, $3.87 for mid-grade and $4.02 for premium.
Along an almost totally Interstate route (I-16, I-75, I-24 and then 1-40 to California), Ricketts says he expects to drive the cars at between 58 to 65 mph.
He will be joined on this year’s quest by a student team of technicians who will be just beginning their spring break and other specialists, including former student Terry Young, a hydrogen expert, from Woodbury, Tenn., and Mike Sims of Jackson, Mich. The students include Travis Owens of Woodbury, Tim Reed of Lewisburg, Tenn., and Brett Harris of Manchester, Tenn.
On Nov. 1, 2010, Ricketts successfully drove the Tercel, nicknamed “Forces of Nature,” approximately 500 miles from Bristol, Va., to West Memphis, Ark., fueled only by the sun and hydrogen from water.
Ricketts is a faculty member in the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience, which is one of 10 departments in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences. He earned his bachelor’s (1970) and master’s (’73) degrees from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and his doctorate from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, in 1982.
Ricketts and his wife, Nancy, live on their 200-acre farm in Wilson County outside Mt. Juliet, Tenn. They have three children and seven grandchildren.
Brentwood, Tenn.-based Tractor Supply Co. has been a 20-plus year sponsor of Ricketts’ alternative fuel research. In January, he received a $15,000 grant from Louisville, Ky.-based Farm Credit Services of Mid-America, $1,500 from Farm Credit Services’ Lebanon, Tenn., office and additional financial support for the Office of the Provost. Other key sponsors include MTSU’s Office of Research and the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.