MTSU Professor Drives Cross-Country On Chicken Fat Fuel (If It Doesn’t Freeze)
MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts stands next to the 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck he will drive from Key West, Fla., to Seattle, Wash., from Nov. 6 to 13. Credit: MTSU News and Media Relations

MTSU Professor Drives Cross-Country On Chicken Fat Fuel (If It Doesn’t Freeze)

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts stands next to the 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck he will drive from Key West, Fla., to Seattle, Wash., from Nov.  6 to 13. Credit: MTSU News and Media Relations
MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts stands next to the 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck he will drive from Key West, Fla., to Seattle, Wash., from Nov. 6 to 13. Credit: MTSU News and Media Relations

Editor’s note: Cliff Ricketts made it to Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday when he decided to postpone his trip until next spring. His car had a “major mechanical breakdown,” according to a press release — and the potential of running into cold weather, as we reported here, didn’t help.

An enterprising MTSU professor is driving from Key West, Fla., to Seattle, Wash. — without stopping for gas.

The good news is that 66-year-old Cliff Ricketts is getting 40 miles per gallon so far on what is essentially chicken fat. The bad news?

“This fuel does not like cold weather, so we’re making all kinds of plans,” he says.

He’s driving northwest in a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup with 15 five-gallon cans of fuel in the truck’s bed. He hopes to keep them from freezing with an electric blanket.

But this isn’t his first cross-country experience. Last year, Ricketts drove a car running on solar power and hydrogen from water. The year before, it was hydrogen and ethanol. He says he wants America to stop importing oil, and that motivates his research.

“It’s helping the economy, it’s helping the environment, and I think it’s making strides toward world peace,” he says.

As he explained in a phone call to WPLN — he was on his fifth day of the trip, somewhere between Clarksville and Paducah — the fuel comes mostly from Tyson Foods chicken fat. It goes through a process called transesterification, which turns it into biodiesel.

I asked him if he had plans for a fourth coast-to-coast drive.

“My wife told me if I do another one of these trips, she would divorce me,” he says, laughing.

But that’s not stopping him from planning one last journey for next year — although he’s not yet disclosing the alternative fuel he’s planning to use.

Red marks his journey to Seattle, blue marks his journey back.

Emily Siner

Emily Siner is an enterprise reporter at WPLN. She has worked at the Los Angeles Times and NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and her written work was recently published in Slices Of Life, an anthology of literary feature writing. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On Twitter: @SinerSays
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