Expert Plans Coast-to-Coast Trip on 10 Gallons of Gas or Less

Alternative fuels expert Dr. Cliff Ricketts of Middle Tennessee State University firmly believes he can go coast-to-coast on l0 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 Savannah and Tybee Island, Ga., to Long Beach, Calif., will begin this Saturday, March 3.

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.

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 experts, including former student Terry Young, a hydrogen expert, of Woodbury, Tenn., and Mike Sims of Jackson, Mich. The students include Travis Owens of Woodbury, Tenn., Tim Reed of Lewisburg, Tenn., and Brett Harris of Manchester, Tenn.

On Nov. 1, 2010, Ricketts drove the Tercel, nicknamed “Forces of Nature,” approximately 500 miles from Bristol, Va., to West Memphis, Ark., fueled by the sun and hydrogen from water. Ricketts is a faculty member in the MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience, which is one of 10 programs in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.

Brentwood, Tenn.-based Tractor Supply Co. has been a 20-plys year sponsor of Ricketts’ alternative fuel research. This year, he received a $15,000 grant from Farm Credit Services of Mid-America and additional financial support for the Office of the Provost. Other primary sponsors include MTSU’s Office of Research and the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.