1990 - Volume #14, Issue #3, Page #02[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Ordinary Water Powers This Old Farmall "H"
The tractor was originally propane-powered so it required only a few changes to run on hydrogen, such as boosting strength of the spark by closing plug gaps from .20 in. to .10 in. What amazes everyone who sees the tractor operate is that the only thing coming out of the exhaust is pure, clean water vapor because when hydrogen is burned it recombines with oxygen to turn back into water.
"It's the fuel of the future because we'll never run out of water and sun," says Dr. Cliff Ricketts of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro who built the hydrogen-power system with the help of students. Ricketts has been working on alternative fuel projects since the late 1970's when he built a pickup powered by 100 percent corn alcohol. He ran the truck for more than 25,000 miles with no problems at all. Once alcohol had been proven to work he started looking for an even better fuel.
Ricketts worked closely with Dr. Roger Billings at the American Academy of Sci-5 ence in Independence, Mo., who was the first person in the U.S. to power an internal combustion engine with hydrogen in 1967. Billings has developed several commercial hydrogen power systems and continues to develop new and more efficient ways of converting water to hydrogen.
Hydrogen is produced by running an electrical current through water. It splits the water molecules into their two components, hydrogen and oxygen. On Rickett's Far-mall, a solar panel supplies the electricity, which passes through water in the fuel tank. The oxygen generated by the system is ejected while the hydrogen is pumped to a normal welding tank mounted on the side of the engine and fitted with a special low pressure regulator. It plumbs into the regular fuel line that feeds the engine where the hydrogen burns just like the propane that originally powered the tractor. Other than changing plug gaps, the only other change Rickett made was to engine timing. "The tractor runs beautifully. We didn't modify the engine itself at all."
The small solar panel on the tractor doesn't produce enough hydrogen to keep the experimental tractor running continuously.
_ Ricketts uses a supplementay electric motor to generate the hydrogen he needs.
"We just want to show people what can be done. I can imagine the day when entire barn roofs will be covered with photo cells that'll continuously produce fuel from water to power tractors, pickups, cars and all other internal combustion engines on the farm. Photovoltaic cells are becoming more and more efficient and more affordable. There will come a day when the price of fossil fuels will rise enough that we'll have to look for another source of fuel and we want to be ready," says Ricketts, noting that he's found it's relatively simple to convert any internal combustion engine to run on hydrogen. Before converting the Farmall, he converted a gas-powered Briggs & Stratton engine with no problem at all. Ricketts has also started work on a hydrogen fuel cell which simply reverses the process of making hydrogen fuel. A fuel cell actually combines hydrogen and oxygen molecules to make water and in the process generates electricity. "This process has the potential to make every farm energy self-sufficient because it uses ordinary elements available for free all around us," says Ricketts, who's consulting with Dr. Roger Billings in developing the new technology.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Dr. Cliff Ricketts, MTSU, P.O. Box 5, Murfreesboro, Tenn. 37132 (ph 615 898-2523).
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