Drive Free - When Your Car and Your Body Are Veggie Fueled

When Your Body AND Your Car are Veggie Fueled
by tonya kay

Here is a sincere warning that goes out to anyone considering converting their car to run waste vegetable oil: you are about to become a rock star. After only one visit, restaurants know you by name, auto shoppes will call their friends to show you off, and people in the parking lot will want pictures with you with greasy hands. Thanks to recent television coverage, WVO is a fashionable topic in American livingrooms and when you arrive at the deli requesting dirty oil, they will act like you are their long lost cousin and do everything but pinch your cheeks. 

The first diesel engine, dubbed the "Black Mistress", was invented in 1893 by Rudolf Diesel. Obviously, there wasn't diesel fuel before there was a diesel engine, so in the years that followed, Rudolf Diesel perfected his invention and discovered that this engine could run on practically any hydrocarbon, including shale oil, refinery tailings, coal dust and, get this: peanut oil. 

I feel like I'm just taking the little Black Mistress back to her roots. Letting her natural knotty hair grow out. Feeding her the food she was meant to eat, you know?  Running vegetable oil is what this engine was designed to do!


I run waste vegetable oil, which is different than biodiesel. Biodiesel is a vegetable oil or animal fat based fuel that can be run in any diesel engine without modification (yes, right now in any diesel engine). The benefits of biodiesel are that it reduces emissions by 80% and can actually be purchased at the pump in many large and small cities - especially common in middle America (farmers have been running biodiesel for decades). The drawback to biodiesel is that it is a highly refined fuel, often processed from virgin oils or fats, that utilizes highly toxic chemicals such as methanol - not to mention electricity - in it's production, and costs anywhere between $2.30 - $3.80/gallon. 

Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) is literally used kitchen grease. The processing of which involves nothing more than hand-filtering to remove the deep-fryer floaters (water and microscopic food particulate).  The benefits of WVO are that it also reduces emissions by 80%, however does not require chemicals nor electricity in its processing, is absolutely FREE, and most importantly, keeps a massive bi-product of our fast-food industry from being dumped into the ground water or used in your body soap and cosmetics (yum...). Drawbacks of WVO are (if you consider it a drawback):  you won't be hanging out at gas stations anymore and indeed, a little Do-It-Yourself effort will earn your right to offer under-the-hood public interviews.


Now, although the Black Mistress of 1893 could handle some good grease, the modern diesel fuel injection systems have been engineered to run on low-viscosity diesel fuel and can not handle thick grease, UNLESS the viscosity is reduced first. This can be accomplished two ways: chemically (transforming the oil into biodiesel); or thermally. By heating the oil to 160-180 F the viscosity is reduced to that of diesel fuel and viola!, Rudolph's dream is revisited.

So the conversion process is not an engine conversion at all, but a sort add-on which heats and filters the WVO before it gets to the engine. On my car, a hot little 2001 TDI VW Jetta, the add-on begins at the main tank, which holds 15 gallons and is now used for waste vegetable oil.  Two electric heating pads (drawing 7 amps each) are installed underneath the main tank, getting the grease started heating as soon as you key in the ignition. 
From the heated main tank, a new fuel line is run to a custom 10 micron veggie fuel filter in the engine.  The new fuel line is "wrapped" in two lines of coolant borrowed from the thermostat, assuring that when the engine reaches running temperature, the already heated main-tank veggie fuel will maintain 190 degrees temperature all the way to the fuel filter, which is wrapped in another 7 amp heating pad.  At this point, the veggie fuel, filtered and fluid, is ready to go!

My 2001 TDI VW Jetta's personal conversion includes one more add-on to accommodate the compulsive gypsy lifestyle I lead.  You see, I can't tell you where I will be next week, let alone next winter, so I chose to install a two-tank system on my car.  The two-tank system equips my WVO machine with a small 5 gallon auxiliary tank (mine sits in the trunk around the spare tire) that is filled with biodiesel or diesel for cold-weather start-up and shut-down.  When temperatures fall below, 50 degrees F, my Jetta prefers a two-block biodiesel transition.  Mercedes, BMWs, trucks, semis and tractors will obviously have preferences of their own.  It is conservative to say that every installation is a custom conversion.

Prefabricated conversion kits start at $600 and go up to $3,000. Fortunately for those with the ambition, mechanical inclination and a good set of socket wrenches, converting a diesel engine to run WVO can be an inexpensive and very rewarding Do-It-Yourself endeavor.  My personal conversion kit and installation cost a total of $2,500, which included four extra $40 veggie fuel filters, a $30 stash of filter bags and a $160 electric pump, all of which I would highly recommend. The electric pump plugs into my lighter outlet and is used to pump grease from one container to another, or from one container to my tank. That pump is invaluable, and saves a greasy-handed mini-skirt wearing WVO chick's back so she can sign more autographs.

Indeed, fueling your car with WVO requires more commitment and consciousness than pulling up to the gas pump, but if I wanted average results, I'd be doing what average people do.  I'll settle for nothing short of extraordinary this time 'round and if it takes a little extra effort to make sure the neighbors' kids have a clean drinking water or my grandfather enjoys deep breathes of fresh air, that's no hassle at all.  In fact, it just might be precisely what I'm here to do.


conversion photos and oil-collecting techniques under Alternative Fuels at the Lonely Garden Forum
WVO facts and networking
Report:  Vegetable Oil As a Fuel

TONYA KAY is a raw food athlete, professional dancer,  cast-member of the Off-Broadway phenomenon STOMP, waste vegetable oil driver and full-time gypsy.  Her DVD, How To Spin Poi With Tonya Kay is available at, teaching the techniques used in fire spinning – a fantastic way to tone the core and upper body, center for meditation, and explore movement as artistic self-expression.  For her current performance, teaching and lecture schedule, visit



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