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Chasing the Fuel of the Future

Ask around and you might hear that America’s interest in alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles is less than a decade old. But ask someone in the know, and you’ll get a different story. Dr. Cliff Ricketts, professor at Middle Tennessee State University, has been involved in alternative fuels since 1978. And Tractor Supply has been right there with him most of the way.

When gasoline prices tripled in 1978, Dr. Ricketts began to envision a future in which Americans wouldn’t rely on foreign oil. He was concerned that without foreign oil, farmers could not get their crops to market, resulting in a food shortage. At a time when carmakers tried to find ways to use less gas, he found ways to use other fuel sources like ethanol and hydrogen instead.

In 1991, the world’s first hydrogen fuel race was scheduled to take place at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Dr. Ricketts, who was already teaching at MTSU at the time, wanted to enter but needed the help of a sponsor.

At MTSU, Dr. Ricketts is a longtime professor of agriculture education teaching future ag teachers. He’s also had a long-standing relationship and involvement with the Future Farmers of America. Through a contact on the FFA’s national board, Dr. Ricketts reached out to Tractor Supply for sponsorship dollars. TSC awarded him a grant to participate in the race— which MTSU matched—and Dr. Ricketts was off to Bonneville. It was a smart investment to back Dr. Ricketts and his team, who set a land speed record for a hydrogen-fueled car—a record that stood for 15 years.

Dr. Ricketts’s work in alternative fuels is all done in the hopes of achieving these four goals:

  • Make the American farmer energy independent.
  • Help the trade imbalance, as most of the imbalance is due to oil.
  • Help the environment. A hydrogen engine’s only output is water.
  • World peace. Many of our world’s conflicts are related to our reliance on oil.

But Dr. Ricketts doesn’t chase records, and he isn’t in this field for fame or notoriety. He’s in it for science and for the future of our country. Always eager to share his discoveries, he’s made presentations at the World’s Fair about running cars on cow manure and soybean oil, and he has testified before Congress on Flex- Fuel Hydrogen Hybrid Vehicles. He’s even been able to run an engine using water.

“I first did that in 1987,” he recalls. “Started with a Briggs engine, then a tractor.”

A self-proclaimed “farm boy,” Dr. Ricketts’s passion these days is getting passenger vehicles to run on nothing but sun and water. In March, his passion turned into a near reality. Thanks to TSC’s continued sponsorship, Dr. Ricketts and his team drove from Georgia to California using energy from the sun, water, ethanol and a little more than two gallons of gasoline. The trek used three of the team’s modified vehicles. Next year, the team is planning to do the trip again with the intent of relying only on sun and water, using fuels produced on campus at MTSU.

“If I can make it from coast to coast on nothing but sun and water, I will have made my contribution to mankind,” says Dr. Ricketts. “And it’s thanks to Tractor Supply.”

An important part of TSC’s Stewardship Program is providing support for projects that promote sustainable practices to protect our environment. TSC’s support of Dr. Ricketts’s alternative fuels research since 1991 demonstrates TSC’s long-standing commitment to stewardship.