Tuesday, April 28, 2015

[334] MTSU researcher resumes quest to drive cross-country on waste animal fat


MURFREESBORO — Middle Tennessee State University professor Cliff Ricketts is not accustomed to failure. It is not a part of his vocabulary.

So when the 38-year MTSU alternative fuels researcher had his latest “Southern Fried Fuel” expedition aborted by a transmission problem near Kansas City Nov. 11, 2014, he was extremely frustrated but firmly optimistic.

“Attempting to drive from Key West to Seattle has been an adventure,” he said of the journey to drive from the tip of the Florida Keys to near the Pacific coast in Washington. “We’ll postpone it to a later date.”

The “later date” for completing the 1,850-mile drive comes Sunday through Tuesday, March 8-10, during spring break for MTSU students and faculty members. To fuel his journey, Ricketts is using biodiesel from waste animal (chicken) fat obtained from an Arkansas processing plant and used vegetable oil from MTSU dining facilities.

Knowing gas prices will rise again, the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience faculty member knows pure biodiesel is a nontoxic, biodegradable, sulfur-free, renewable fuel. Using biodiesel could make a major impact on U.S. petroleum consumption.

“My goal and passion is to keep the U.S. from using foreign oil,” he said.

“I’m optimistic we can finish the expedition and reach Seattle,” said Ricketts, who will be driving a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel using the two biodiesel fuels.

“We got the vehicle fixed. It’s better than it was before,” Ricketts said. “Plus, we’ve got a backup (vehicle) in case we have any issues.”

The backup is a 1991 Dodge Ram diesel.

“Even more confident than the last time, we are better prepared for any cold weather we might encounter, with heating systems to keep the fuel warm,” he added.

With a five-member team — including MTSU senior Ben Black of Lascassas, Tennessee — accompanying him, Ricketts will be resuming the trip about 20 miles east of Kansas City. The plan is to drive through Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and across Washington before finishing March 10 in Seattle.

The group will leave from Murfreesboro Saturday morning en route to Kansas City. Team members include MTSU alumnus mechanic Terry Young of Woodbury, Tennessee; retired engineer Mike Sims of Jackson, Michigan; and Ricketts’ son, Paul, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

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