It’s pretty amazing, quite frankly, that any 1994 Toyota Tercel could traverse Tennessee.
But it’s far more a feat that said Tercel made the trip refueling just once — in Murfreesboro, the state’s dead center, appropriately enough — and when it was time to fill up, it was not with gasoline or even ethanol.
The car runs on regular old Tennessee tap water.
Dr. Cliff Ricketts, a professor of agribusiness and agriscience at Middle Tennessee State University, drove the classic Bristol-to-Memphis cross-rhomboid route Nov. 1. He and his MTSU team have a hydrogen refinery that — like an oil refinery — converts raw material (in this case, water) into fuel.
A green enough plan? Not for Ricketts. To further reduce fossil fuel consumption, the refinery itself runs on electricity produced by solar panels.
He’s no Cliffy-come-lately, either. Ricketts started working on alternative fuel cars in the late 1970s, when gas first eclipsed the $1.60 barrier.
In fact, like everyone else who owns a 1994 Tercel, the car is not his first choice to make the trip. An adapted Prius is getting upgrades in Nevada, and a Chevy Volt/Blazer cross-breed is having some battery issues, so the Tercel made the trek — at an average speed of 58 miles per hour and on the interstates.
Ricketts has testified before Congress on alternative-fuel vehicles, telling members that the American people won’t clamor for cars like his until gas is $5 per gallon for more than a year. And one day he wants to take one of his cars cross-country on just 10 gallons of gasoline, a feat he hopes to accomplish next year.
In the meantime, Ricketts takes his Tercel for the occasional drive, showing off the utility of his hydropowered import and its water-in/water-out system, which produces no exhaust except good old H2O — that is, unless things aren’t tuned quite right, it which case something else comes out of the tailpipe: nitrous oxide.
“And that’s laughing gas, so if it’s not tuned right, we just get tickled about it,” Ricketts said.