Weather, breakdown delays biodiesel trip

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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 drive-train transmission on the left side of the 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel pickup and winter weather affecting the Great Plains jointly ended the 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 animal (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 and through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri -- six of 13 states he would be driving through along the way -- 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 has a smell of fried grease in the smoke coming out of the stack exhaust in the loud truck, the trip also had other benefits:

• Two females -- 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-colored truck became a rolling billboard for the 3,300-plus miles it was driven round trip from Key West to Kansas City; and

• The university has gained increased stature overall in research and development and is a driving force in alternative fuels research.

In addition to 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.

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