Weekly Obsession: Water car

Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 8:00pm

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. 

Filed under: City News

2 Comments on this post:

By: BenDover on 11/8/10 at 8:18

What I've read about hydrogen is that producing it isn't the hard part (though the work efficiency of doing so is less than .5) but compressing enough of it into useable volumes takes a substantial amount of energy too. Is he saying that the car itself converts the water to hydrogen as the article implies or that there is a facility that produces and compresses hydrogen from solar panels and then that is placed in the car?

By: reality on 11/8/10 at 2:41

There have been several people try this and it worked for a while. The biggest problem is rust inside of the engine. It produces water vapor as an exhaust. That means that the valves, valve seats, exhaust manifold and the whole exhaust system will be exposed to rust from the inside. That includes the expensive catalytic converter. Researchers have found that everything that is exposed to the water vapor needs to be stainless steel to stop the rust problem and early engine failure. How much would it cost for a complete stainless steel engine and exhaust system? I would be courious to know how the engine in his test car holds up after 10,000 miles. From the research I have read, that will be about all he can expect before the engine has to be rebuilt and the exhaust system repaired. I hope they update everyone with the good and the bad on this hydrogen car.