2012-03-07

Think You Have Range Anxiety? Try Driving Cross Country On Just Hydrogen

Like an environmentalist’s version of Cannonball Run, one college professor is making his way from Georgia to California using just five gallons of gas and a lot of alternative fuels.

Some people buy a Prius to prove it’s possible to live without using too much gas. Cliff Ricketts converts his cars to hydrogen, and drives coast-to-coast.

"A lot of people talk, but they don’t do," says Ricketts, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, who is driving from Savannah, Georgia, to Long Beach, California, using only hydrogen, electricity, and a little ethanol. "We don’t want to say, 'We can do this, we can do that.' We want to actually demonstrate that we can go coast-to-coast on less than five gallons of gas, and show there is an alternative to gasoline, should we have to use it."

Ricketts, and his team of eight assistants and two tow trucks, began their journey on Sunday, in the pouring rain, driving from the Georgia coast to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. By now, they should be somewhere in New Mexico. The total trip is 2,532 miles and will take about five days.

"Our thing is to show that there are other alternatives besides gas," Ricketts says. "At a time of a national emergency, we might need a back-up system. It’s very possible there is some unrest in the Mideast, war breaks out, and the Persian Gulf will get blocked off."

Ricketts, who has been researching alternative fuels for 30 years, is using three cars converted to use hydrogen. The team filled each vehicle from a home-made refinery at MTSU, using electricity from a solar panel for the electrolysis process (which splits hydrogen from water).

Originally, the team planned to take along a mobile refilling unit, so it could fill up the cars when they ran out. But the equipment they ordered never arrived from Canada. So, once the first two vehicles (a 2005 Toyota Prius and a 1994 Toyota Tercel) run down, they will switch to a 2007 Prius, which also has two 10-kilowatt-hour battery packs, and the ability to run on E95 (95% ethanol). Unfortunately, there are no hydrogen filling stations along the way.

Ricketts hopes to get to the West Coast using less than four gallons, if all goes according to plan. Then, next year, the team will drive the whole way on hydrogen only. "This year we’re using ethanol in order to make it. We’re starting the best we can, and getting a little better every year."

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