Biodiesel Fuels Cross Country Trip

Thursday, November 6, 2014 @ 05:11 PM gHale

The cost of gasoline right now in some parts of the U.S. is dipping below $3 a gallon, but it would seem a bit odd to think you can drive coast to coast and hardly pay anything at all for petrol.

That is exactly what Middle Tennessee State University professor Cliff Ricketts has done. In 2012, he made it on only 2.15 gallons, and in 2013, no gas at all.

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Starting today, Ricketts is taking a 3,550-mile cross-country expedition from Key West, Florida, to Seattle, Washington, with the route taking 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. Each full tank will take him 550 miles before he will need 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, the Nov. 6-13 trip 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.

Ricketts 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.”

Most of the trip will end up fueled by pure biodiesel from waste animal (chicken) fat given by Brentwood, Tennessee-based Delek US, plus biodiesel made at MTSU and utilized 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 ends up removed and the fatty acids combine 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.

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