Thursday, March 21, 2013

[351] Running on empty: MTSU researcher Ricketts' coast-to-coast drive using no gas successfully begins

News and Media Relations contact: Randy Weiler, 615-785-1196 (cell) or / Follow on Twitter @WeilerRandy

MTSU alternative fuels expert contact: Dr. Cliff Ricketts, 615-308-7605 (cell) or 
        Hydrogen from water separated by sun will propel them to Long Beach

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — As a Middle Tennessee State University alternative fuels researcher, Dr. Cliff Ricketts believes he stands on the edge of history.

On March 9, Ricketts and his support team began a five-day, 2,600-mile journey to drive coast-to-coast — from Tybee Island, Ga., to Long Beach, Calif. — using no gas purchased at the pump.

After the March 9 first day of the Atlantic-to-Pacific journey (follow on Twitter @WeilerRandy), Ricketts said he has overcome the first hurdles.

“We had challenges and we were able to deal with them,” the veteran MTSU professor said Sunday during a break in the trip. The quest resumes Monday, March 11, as the team takes Interstate 40 west to Jackson and Memphis before stopping overnight in the Van Buren and Fort Smith, Ark., area.

Not long after a 2005 Toyota Prius, the first car being used on March 9, started out from Tybee Island and Savannah, Ga., Ricketts learned it had a transmission coolant problem. Until it reached Macon, about three hours away, backup driver Terry Young of Woodbury, Tenn., had to stop several times, allowing the vehicle to cool.

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

“I’m 99 percent sure it was not hydrogen-related,” said Ricketts. “That’s our guess. We don’t know for sure (that it was a transmission coolant problem). Toyota doesn’t know.”

By the time the ’05 Prius reached Macon, the problem appeared to have corrected itself. Ricketts added that he will learn the status of another problem around 7 a.m. Monday. A backup ’07 Prius has been in the shop at a Murfreesboro Toyota dealership with a mechanical issue. He hopes the car will be ready to travel.

“We’re showing how America could be energy independent if the need arises,” Ricketts said of the journey. “We don’t need any foreign oil. … What we achieved last year was less pollution and less dependent on foreign oil.”

“Hydrogen can be made from natural gas,” he added. “Our hydrogen comes from water. With hydrogen, everything’s natural. The solar is all natural and it’s sustaining.”

Tuesday, March 12, the group will drive through Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas, before stopping in Santa Rosa, N.M. They will drive through Flagstaff, Ariz., before stopping in Kingman, Ariz., on Wednesday, March 13.
The journey, or “expedition” as Ricketts calls it, is scheduled to end Thursday, March 14, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach, Calif., one of the states where gas has exceeded $5 a gallon.

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 10, AAA said the national average was $3.70 for a gallon of regular gas. Prices have been dropping for about a week.

“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.”
Senior Arad Alexander of Houston, Texas, will be part of the travel team. He was in Ricketts’ alternative fuels class last fall. Alexander’s group’s class project involved turning a donated old golf cart into a solar electric vehicle. Another student is expected to join the team Monday.

Besides Young, a hydrogen expert, and Alexander, other crewmembers include Travis Owen of Woodbury, Mike Sims of Jackson, Mich., Rick Presley of Orlando, Fla., and Paul Ricketts of Versailles, Ky., Cliff Ricketts’ youngest son. Owen attended MTSU, and is a student at the Tennessee Technology Center at Murfreesboro. Several of Ricketts’ former students, who were involved with his years of research, will join in March 11-14.

In 2012, Ricketts and Young combined to drive 1,700 miles using 95 percent ethanol (43 gallons of E95) and 5 percent gas. The remaining 900 miles were driven using hydrogen from water separated by sun (solar), all produced at MTSU.

On Nov. 1, 2010, Ricketts drove the Tercel, nicknamed “Forces of Nature,” approximately 500 miles from Bristol, Va., to West Memphis, Ark., fueled by solar and hydrogen from water, all produced on campus.

Ricketts, a native of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., has spent 37 years in higher education, including 35 in alternative fuels research. He teaches a variety of agriculture classes for the MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.

In 2006, Ricketts was asked to testify before the 109th U.S. Congress’ Committee on Science and Energy regarding multi-fuel plug-in hybrids.

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.


For more information about Ricketts’ 2013 trip or to interview Dr. Ricketts, please contact Randy Weiler by calling 615-785-1196 (cell), by email ( or follow the coast-to-coast journey on Twitter (@WeilerRandy).

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