Dr. Ricketts' Drives 3,000+ Miles Fueled By Chicken Fat

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MTSU's Dr. Cliff Ricketts on his 3,500 "Southern Fried Fuel" trip from Florida to Seattle.
MTSU senior Ben Black, left, works with Paul Ricketts of Versailles, Kentucky, in adding waste chicken fat to the 1991 Dodge Ram diesel.

Dr. Cliff Ricketts dream came true. The MTSU Ag-Science professor drove 3,000+ miles from Florida to Seattle using chicken fat and used cooking oil from the university's kitchens for fuel.

Ben Black could have spent spring break relaxing in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Instead, the Middle Tennessee State University senior criminal justice major chose to spend it bonding with five older men driving 1,850 miles halfway across the country on waste chicken fat and used cooking oil from university dining facilities.

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In what he calls the trip of a lifetime, Black, 21, said driving across the country was an awesome experience and it included driving a 100-mile portion after midnight March 9.

The "Southern Fried Fuel" expedition ended successfully March 10 when MTSU researcher Cliff Ricketts and his five-member team completed the 1,850-mile final leg that finished in Seattle. Ricketts' research and objective was to show the fuels would be an alternative in the event foreign oil becomes scarce.

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"The experience has been amazing," said Black, who lives in Lascassas, Tennessee, will graduate in May and already admitted to Belmont Law School in Nashville. "It has really shown me that running a vehicle on animal fat is possible. I was a little skeptical at first, but now I know that it can be done."

"Don't get me wrong. It has been a lot of hard work -- long nights, breakdowns and setbacks, but it has been worth it to show people that this is a viable fuel and way of powering a vehicle," he added

With another alternative fuel achievement secured, MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts appreciates Black's willingness to participate.

"I always like helping students discover their own country and the world," he said. "There is more to college than books and studying. And Ben contributed to our success.

It marks another career milestone for Ricketts, 66, who is in his 38th year as a member of the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience faculty.

"I feel relieved," he said. "I feel content and happy because we achieved our goal, and satisfied we achieved our goal. Our backup plans were in place and they helped us achieve our goals.

Backup plans included buying a second vehicle, a 1991 Dodge Ram diesel, in case the primary vehicle, a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel, went out of commission, and buying parts to repair the Rabbit if needed.

The VW Rabbit experienced a mechanical issue March 9 and necessitated the need to use he Dodge Ram for the remainder of the trip that had nothing to do with the alternative fuel.

Black, who is earning a minor in general agriculture, admits he knew little about operation of the Rabbit, but he helped when opportunities presented themselves.

"I'm still able to help with some mechanical things, handling tools, find parts at parts stores and I've been assigned to do all the navigating and 'googling' things while on the trip," he said. "I think my contribution has been in helping the group stay on course and doing various other jobs."

Joining Ricketts and Black on the trip were Terry Young of Woodbury, Tennessee; Mike Sims of Jackson, Michigan; and Ricketts' son, Paul, who is from Versailles, Kentucky.

The expedition began Nov. 8, 2014, in Key West, Florida. It ended Nov. 11 near Kansas City, Missouri, when a transmission issue halted the trip. It resumed March 8 in Grain Valley, Missouri.

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Dr. Cliff Ricketts; MTSU; Southern Fried Fuel; WGNS
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