9:28am

Thu March 14, 2013
Business

Running On Empty: MTSU Researcher Ricketts’ Coast-to-Coast Drive Using No Gas Ends March 14

Middle Tennessee State University alternative fuels researcher Dr. Cliff Ricketts sits behind the wheel of a car knowing full well that he is less than 24 hours from achieving a career goal.

Should all go as planned, Ricketts a longtime agriculture faculty member and 35-year alternative fuels researcher, will complete a 2,600-mile journey without using any gasoline. It’s possible he may be the first person ever to achieve this feat. Follow on Twitter @WeilerRandy.

For fuel, the Prius and a 1994 Toyota Tercel use hydrogen from water separated by sun (solar), all produced on the MTSU campus.

Ricketts, 64, is scheduled to arrive in Long Beach, Calif., by early to mid-afternoon Thursday, March 14. They hope to arrive by 2 p.m. PDT behind the Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 East Ocean Blvd.

“We’ve calculated to make it with a little extra hydrogen fuel, but I’m getting a little nervous now,” Ricketts said Wednesday, March 13, while driving past the mesas and mountains of New Mexico. He and the team were headed for Kingman, Ariz., for an overnight stay before completing the journey on Thursday.

“There’s a lot of research going, a lot of strategy. (If) we make one mistake, we’re shut down,” he said just before passing the Continental Divide.

A prime example of what he was talking about occurred Wednesday morning in Santa Rosa, N.M., In refueling their cars before the day began, pressure from the hydrogen tanks making the trip made the valves ice over.

“The valves freeze over due to exothermic reaction,” he said. “If we had not backed off and filled really slowly, it could’ve damaged one of the cutoff valves.”

The quest began March 9 as the group began at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean at Tybee Island, Ga. The drive has passed through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico along the way.

Ricketts’ trip comes at a time when gas prices rose significantly in February, passing $5 a gallon for regular in several states. As of March 13, AAA said the national average was $3.71 for a gallon of regular gas.

Not because his name is attached to the project but Ricketts said this research has greaterworld, economic and environmental implications than putting a man on the moon.

“If you were to ask me which is more significant to mankind, putting a man on the moon or driving coast to coast in five days with the sun and hydrogen from water as the only fuel sources, I believe the latter is more significant. … This has environmental implications, economic implications and world peace implications.”

Brentwood, Tenn.-based Tractor Supply Company, the MTSU Office of Research and Louisville, Ky.-based Farm Credit Services of Mid-America are the primary sources of Ricketts’ 2012-13 funding. TSC contributed $25,000; the research office provided $12,500.

Driving though Memphis
Driving though Memphis

Follow the coast-to-coast journey on Twitter (@WeilerRandy) or visit www.mtsunews.com/ridin-with-ricketts-2013.