Ridin’ with Ricketts, Day 4: Tuesday, Nov. 11 — End of the Road
KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Plagued by a major mechanical problem and greatly concerned about arctic weather in his path Tuesday, Nov. 11, MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts postponed his “Southern-Fried Fuel” quest until spring 2015.
A broken drivetrain transmission on the left side of the 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel pickup, plus winter weather affecting the Great Plains, combined to ended the alternative fuel researcher’s Nov. 8-13 cross-country journey.
Ricketts had planned to drive 3,550 miles from Key West, Florida, to Seattle, Washington, on pure biodiesel from waste chicken fat as part of his ongoing efforts to wean the nation from dependency on foreign oil.
“I said at the beginning of this journey that we are on an adventure, and it has been,” Ricketts said.
“We’ll just postpone it until a later date. That is the common-sense thing to do.”
Traveling from the southernmost point in Florida up through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri — six of 13 states along his planned route — the 38-year MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience faculty member called the trip an amazing experience.
His fuel source, totally pure biodiesel, did not include petroleum. The mechanical problems had nothing to do with the fuel he was testing in the research.
“The biodiesel did great,” said Ricketts, who added that data showed miles-per-gallon ranges were from 36 to 45-plus.
“Equal speed, power, torque. The diesel vehicle has shown it is a viable fuel option as and when needed. Any issues we had had nothing to do with the biodiesel.”
The mechanical failure, which happened east of Kansas City about 2 a.m. Nov. 11, may have ended Ricketts’ quest for now, but he plans to resume the trip in March or May 2015.
Along with the successful performance of the pure biodiesel, which smells of fried grease in the smoke it emits from the stack exhaust in the loud truck, the trip also had other benefits.
Two women — MTSU junior animal science education major Abby Barlow of Viola, Tennessee, in Warren County, and alumna Lucy Prestwood of Hendersonville, Tennessee — participated in an opportunity that supports MTSU’s ongoing efforts to increase the number of women in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The MTSU-blue truck became a rolling billboard for the 1,620-plus miles it was driven from Key West to Kansas City.The university has gained increased stature overall in research and development and is a driving force in alternative fuels research.
The expedition also earned the university more media coverage for Ricketts’ alternative fuel research.
Along with Barlow and Prestwood, team members also included mechanical engineer Mike Sims of Jackson, Michigan, and researcher and entrepreneur Duane Griffin of Murfreesboro.
Brentwood, Tennessee-based Tractor Supply Co. and the MTSU Office of Research and Sponsored Programs are his primary sponsors, having contributed $480,000 for the past 23 years.
“All of this will be continued with our trip next spring,” Ricketts said.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)
Ridin’ with Ricketts, Day 3: Monday, Nov. 10
ST. LOUIS, Missouri — Cruising west on Interstates 24, 57, 64 and 70 in darkness en route to Kansas City, something is definitely missing in MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts’ “Southern-Fried Fuel” coast-to-coast pure biodiesel quest.
And it’s not the blasted overheating problems encountered in the first four — no, make that five — days of the journey to drive 3,550 miles from Key West, Florida, to Seattle, Washington, on pure biodiesel from waste animal fat.
What’s missing is the volunteer assistance provided by MTSU junior animal science education major Abby Barlow and 2013 graduate Lucy Prestwood.
Barlow and Prestwood were valuable assets in their respective areas of expertise during their participation in the expedition.
Barlow is mechanically inclined, and Prestwood, a teacher in agriscience at The Academy of Environmental and Urban Planning and Biotechnology at Glencliff High School in Nashville, is lending technology and social media skills.
“Abby contributed very much mechanically because of her youth, agility and ability to reach tight spots with the engine, and she was able to help Mike (Sims),” Ricketts said, referring to the retired mechanical engineer, veteran and 2012 and 2013 participant in Ricketts’ coast-to-coast solar and hydrogen-from-water ventures who’s also on this year’s trip.
Prestwood, who is nicknamed “Max,” tweeted photos from the trip on a School of Agribusiness and Agriscience Twitter account and often used search engines to find information Ricketts needed on the spur of the moment.
“Her contribution was her computer skills and knowledge that helped us on the trip,” Ricketts said of Prestwood, who lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
Barlow grew up on a farm in the Viola community in Warren County, Tennessee, not far from McMinnville. She transferred to MTSU this fall.
The young woman’s penchant for mechanics came “because you have to be (knowledgeable) and have a slight knowledge if the engines are to be able to run on the farm,” she said.
“Your tractors, your trucks and, technically, your animals are an engine. You’ve got to know the basics.”
“If they break down, you have to fix it,” added Barlow, who said she hopes to teach agricultural education in high school, preferably “somewhere close to home,” but is open to another area.
Prestwood, 22, a 2013 MTSU graduate of the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience, said she will carry the research data and stories of the trip experience to her Glencliff classroom.
Day 3 was delayed at least six hours because of mechanical issues. The crew’s arrival outside Kansas City came well past midnight Monday.
— Randy Weiler (email@example.com)
Ridin’ with Ricketts, Day 2: Sunday, Nov. 9
East of TAMPA, Florida — Hundreds of cars seem to fly by the ailing 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel pickup truck — the one being used by MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts in his bid to drive across the country on pure biodiesel from waste chicken fat.
The vehicle seems to want to continually overheat. It is a menace, a bone of contention and a source of frustration for Ricketts, who grows weary with each passing hour his pit crew remains baffled by the problem.
In a last-ditch effort to salvage the situation, someone suggests, “Let’s take the thermostat out.”
“Let’s do it,” Ricketts says in response. And, rather than limping, the Rabbit hopped home to Murfreesboro without overheating again.
By day’s end — actually the middle of the night, 2:30 a.m. to be exact — there was a Nashville television station on campus for an on-site interview in the Vocational Ag shop. There was more work to be performed before the expected 8 a.m. departure, and the crew had little or no time to gain valuable sleep before heading west.
— Randy Weiler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ridin’ with Ricketts, Day 1: Saturday, Nov. 8
DANIA BEACH, Florida — Middle Tennessee State University alternative fuels researcher Cliff Ricketts realizes things never come easy.
Before leaving Key West, Florida, Nov. 8 to begin a 3,550-mile jaunt across the country on pure biodiesel that essentially is waste animal fat from chickens, he and his crew were frustrated by a lingering overheating issue with the 34-year-old truck he is driving on the expedition.
He also heard about a potential weather situation totally opposite of the 82-degree, mostly sunny weather he was enjoying in south Florida, well aware some of the 13 states he will be driving through are northern and in the Pacific Northwest.
“This is going to be an adventure,” said Ricketts, a 38-year veteran MTSU professor, just before departing from Key West to head toward Miami, Fort Lauderdale and an eventual overnight stay in Bradenton.
“It’s 72 degrees this morning in Key West. We’ll hit 30-degree temperatures when we reach Tennessee Sunday night and hit 20 degrees in Kansas City Monday.
“In Montana, and we’ll go through Billings, we could hit 12-degree temperatures,” he said, explaining that an arctic vortex has blown through the region
The 66-year-old researcher, who grew up on a farm and still lives on the family farm outside of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, said the team “will go as far as we can with the research, experiencing as much as we can, but we will use wisdom if we have to call off or change a route later on.”
While still in Key West, MTSU junior Abby Barlow of McMinnville, Tennessee, suggested they pop the hood latch, allowing more air to reach the engine to help resolve the overheating issue.
By the time Ricketts reached Dania Beach for a media interview request, he said the 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck would need a new thermostat.
Mechanical engineer and volunteer Mike Sims of Jackson, Michigan, discovered an additional issue they were trying to fix as daylight faded to dark.
Observers have been able to both see and hear the truck coming; it is noisy. Someone suggested a quieter alternative.
The truck features an exhaust stack system that protrudes vertically from the truck bed.
“It’s loud, and when you demonstrate it to kids, they like that,” Ricketts said. They also find the aroma — the smell of French fries — amusing and entertaining.
In Key West, Ricketts drove past and tried to photograph the Ernest Hemingway Home and the home where President Harry Truman stayed.
He and the group quickly sampled the rich history and cuisine of the city, where you can find chickens wandering on downtown streets, people-watch and see almost anything in the way of the unusual.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)
Southern-fried fuel: Prof ‘gases’ up with grease for 3,550-mile drive — Nov. 5, 2014
Middle Tennessee State University professor Cliff Ricketts has driven coast-to-coast on fumes — in 2012 on only 2.15 gallons of petroleum, and in 2013, no gas at all.
What’s next? It’s a question the alternative fuels researcher is often asked.
The answer comes Nov. 6-13 during a 3,550-mile cross-country expedition from Key West, Florida, to Seattle, Washington. The route will take him back through Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for a brief stop at his research base at the MTSU campus before heading west on his latest adventure.
The 2014 quest involves Ricketts driving a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck on pure biodiesel from waste animal fat mainly from chickens and waste vegetable oil from MTSU dining facilities.
Call it “Southern-fried fuel.” A full tank will carry him about 550 miles before needing to refuel.
“This has viability for not only daily driving, but also big semi-trucks,” said Ricketts, who admits there is a lot of emotion attached to petroleum prices. “Gas is one dollar less now than when it reached its peak, and people are pretty content right now.”
Knowing gas prices will rise again, the 38-year veteran 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.
So he’s taking the five-speed diesel pickup on a cross-country trek using no diesel and no gasoline. Ricketts chose this fuel source after considering green algae but was unable to obtain the amount needed to make the trip.
Along with Florida and Washington, this month’s mission will travel by interstate highways through 13 states. Others include Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Three MTSU students and two Metro Nashville Public Schools teachers will be part of the travel party driving from Murfreesboro to Key West, where the coast-to-coast expedition will begin.
The students include junior Abby Barlow of McMinnville, Tennessee, sophomore Lindsey Rutherford of White Pine, Tennessee, and senior Fleschia Johnson of Smyrna, Tennessee.
Barlow will be making the Key West to Murfreesboro portion of the trip. Rutherford and Johnson plan to travel with the group from Key West to Seattle.
The trip leader said the three young women will witness “the diversity of agriculture” on the trip. He anticipates they will keep notebooks to not only document the research but also view the agricultural variety — soybeans, cotton, horses, aquatic, landscaping and more — along the route.
“Agriculture goes far beyond cows, sows and plows,” he said. “Agriculture is so diverse.”
MTSU alumna Lucy “Max” Prestwood, who teaches agriculture at Glencliff High School in Nashville, will go.
Most of the trip will be fueled by pure biodiesel from waste animal, specifically chicken, fat given by Brentwood, Tennessee-based Delek US, plus biodiesel made at MTSU and used in equipment at the Tennessee Livestock Center and MTSU farm in Lascassas, Tennessee. Ricketts’ Delek fuel came from its processing plant in Crossett, Arkansas.
The Delek Crossett facility uses a process called transesterification, converting fats so the glycerin in the oil is removed and the fatty acids are combined with alcohol to create a combustible fuel.
Using no gasoline in March 2013, Ricketts and co-driver Terry Young, an MTSU alumnus from Woodbury, Tennessee, drove a 1994 Toyota Tercel and a 2005 Toyota Prius from Tybee Island, Georgia, to Long Beach, California, on solar power and hydrogen from water harnessed at MTSU.
They made a similar trip in March 2012, needing only 2.15 gallons of gas.
Major sponsors through the years include Brentwood, Tennessee-based Tractor Supply Co. and the MTSU Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Combined, they have provided $480,000 to fund his research projects.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)
About Cliff Ricketts
• Research: Cliff Ricketts has run engines off ethanol from corn, methane, cow manure, soybean oil and hydrogen from water. He and his students held the world land speed record for a hydrogen-fueled vehicle. Heavily involved in the National FFA Organization at all levels, Ricketts has made more than 1,000 presentations on leadership and alternative fuels. In May 2006, Ricketts testified during a U.S. House of Representatives Science Subcommittee on Energy, urging for a focus on flex-fuel plug-in hybrids and noting the potential for using hydrogen in the internal combustion engine component of the plug-in hybrid electric vehicles as well.
• Age: 66
• MTSU title/years of service: Professor; 38 years as a School of Agribusiness and Agriscience faculty member and alternative fuels researcher.
• Hometown: Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
• Education: Earned bachelor’s in 1970 and master’s (’73) degrees from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and doctorate (’82) from Ohio State University.
• Family: Wife, Nancy Ricketts; children, John Ricketts, Mitzi Pigg and Paul Ricketts; seven grandchildren.
• Awards: MTSU Career Achievement Award, MTSU Public Service Award, two-time recipient of MTSU Foundation’s Outstanding Teacher Award and numerous other honors.
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