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Tonya Kay

Tonya Kay photo courtesy Tonya KayTonya Kay is an actress, TV personality, professional dancer and danger artist living in Los Angeles. A vegetarian of 28 years, vegan for 18 of those and raw vegan for the last 11, Tonya Kay pioneers the green health movement with appearances, publications and green media (available at KayosMarket). Watch Tonya Kay's self-produced web series The Eco Tourist on EcoHearth's Eco Tube. You may have also seen her recently on TV's My Ride Rules, The Tonight Show, Criminal Minds, Glee, House MD, Secret Girlfriend and American Idol with Rhianna. She has performed live in STOMP, De La Guarda, with Panic At The Disco, Kenny Rogers and in countless music videos and commercials. Look for Tonya Kay in the new Muppets Movie, starring in MTV Network's Video Game Reunion, playing a lead in the scripted animal-activist feature film, Bold Native, performing the voice of Green Girl in the raw vegan superhero animated film Rawman and Green Girl and performing burlesque live in Hollywood, California, almost any weekend. In 2012, Tonya Kay will star in the films Off World and Within The Darkness. For more on Tonya Kay, visit her website.

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Running Your Car on Waste Vegetable Oil, Part 1: Converting Your Automobile
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 00:00  |  Written by Tonya Kay | Blog Entry

WVO Mercedes with Owner photo by Damian Kettlewell for Council in West Vancouver Here is a sincere warning that goes out to anyone considering converting a car to run on waste vegetable oil (WVO) as I did: You are about to become a rock star. After only one visit, restaurants will know you by name, auto shops 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 living rooms, 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 Birth of Diesel
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, 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 my 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!

Biodiesel Versus WVO
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% compared to gasoline and can be purchased at the pump in many large and small cities. (It is especially common in middle America, where farmers have been running biodiesel for decades.) However, 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 its production, and costs anywhere between $2.30 to $3.80 per gallon.

WVO is literally just used kitchen grease. The processing of it involves nothing more than hand-filtering to remove the deep-fryer floaters (water and microscopic food particulate). Like biodiesel, WVO reduces emissions by 80%. But WVO has these added advantages:

  • It does not require chemicals or electricity in its processing
  • It is absolutely free
  • It keeps a massive byproduct of our fast-food industry from being dumped into the ground water or used in our body soaps and cosmetics (yum...).

The drawbacks of WVO are (if you consider them drawbacks): you won't be hanging out at gas stations anymore and, indeed, a little Do-It-Yourself effort will earn you the right to offer under-the-hood public interviews.

Vegetable Oil photo by C is for CaseyConversion Basics
Now, although the Black Mistress of 1893 could handle the most gelatinous of greases, modern diesel fuel-injection systems have been engineered to run on low-viscosity diesel fuel. They can handle thick grease only if the viscosity is reduced first. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: chemically (transforming the oil into biodiesel) or thermally. By heating the oil to 160-180 degrees, the viscosity is reduced to that of diesel fuel and voila! Rudolph's dream is realized.

So the conversion process is not an engine conversion at all, but add-on hardware that heats and filters the WVO before it gets to the engine. On my car, a hot little 2001 TDI VW Jetta, the add-ons begin at the main tank, which holds 15 gallons and is now used for waste vegetable oil. Two electric heating pads (drawing seven amps each) are installed underneath the main tank. They start heating the grease as soon as your key turns 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 radiator, assuring that when the engine reaches running temperature, the already heated main-tank veggie fuel will maintain its 190-degree temperature all the way to the fuel filter, which is wrapped in another seven-amp heating pad. At this point, the veggie fuel—filtered and fluid—is ready to go!

My personal conversion includes one additional 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 five-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 shutdown.  When temperatures fall below 50 degrees, my Jetta prefers a two-block biodiesel transition. Mercedes, BMWs, trucks, semis and tractors will obviously have preferences of their own. It is fair to say that every installation is a custom conversion.

Conversion Cost
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. The pump is lightweight and portable so this mini-skirt-wearing WVO chick can lift it without injuring her back—so nothing interferes with her autograph signing.

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 clean drinking water or my grandfather enjoys deep breaths of fresh air, it's no hassle at all. In fact, it just might be precisely what I'm here to do.

Continue to Part 2: How to Select the Oil
Read Part 3: How to Filter the Oil
Read Part 4: Better Oil Filtering
Read Part 5: Risks and Rewards

Additional resources:
WVO Facts and Networking
Report: Vegetable Oil as a Fuel

[Sign up to be notified each time Tonya publishes a new Clean and Green Everyday blog entry on EcoHearth. See a complete list of writing by Tonya Kay on or visit her Clean and Green Everyday blog. – Ed.]

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Comments (14)add
Written by Taz , February 17, 2016
Would this work on a 2006 Mazda 6? Thank you.
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Written by Tonya Kay , February 11, 2016
Hey, Herbert. Thanks for caring. You aren't alone. You're a pioneer! I've converted a Chevy van and it took "okay". It definitely preferred to run on thin biodiesel rather than thick WVO. That is the extent of my larger vehicle experience, but the good news is - there are plenty of quality diesel trucks out there. From what I know, I'd suggest going with an older model that has the minimum amount of computer gadgets controlling the car. With my cars converted, I found cars that work on mechanics rather than programs took the best.

I'm not available for consultation, but thank you for the request.
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Written by Herbert , February 11, 2016
Congratulations and thank you Tonya for sharing your experience. I would love to talk with you sometime. I have been driving a Nissan leaf and although it has been great, I am ready for a truck, I need to tow and haul stuff all the time. Please recommend a truck good for conversion.
Thank again.
Also let me know if you could consult a bit with me on the process. I will be happy to compensate your time. I feel the same way about the environment as you do. And I am willing to do the extra work. My wife teases me, but I tell her I feel more sophisticated than people in Ferraris.
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Written by Emily , December 01, 2015
nice blog and very impressive points. thanks for sharing
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Written by Danish Rich , August 05, 2013
Actually, our environment gets polluted mostly because of the carbon dioxide gas produced by the vehicles. So, to protect the environment from being polluted the branded car makers have made an invention called Electric cars which produce less amount of Carbon Dioxide gas. So its better to use electric cars to make the environment pollution free.
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Written by David Schwartz , March 14, 2012
Is it possible to successfully convert an engine newer than 1999-2003, like a 2005 Jetta TDI? It seems that there's got to be somebody who has extended that range of years to newer cars, making it easier to find such a car in possibly rare supply. What would be the best brand name kit for the conversion? We are willing to pay $3,000 for it. Thanks.
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Written by CGS , July 14, 2011
Converting from fuel to cooking oil for your car is one way to solve your expenses on transportation. Not only is it more eco-friendly but you also become a good example to others.
Thank you for sharing this very useful information to the public. Waste vegetable oil should not be totally considered as useless because we may still be able to find alternative ways to utilize it, like the example shown above.
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Written by sensa reviews , October 13, 2010
This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw. Thanks for posting this informative article.
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Written by Tonya Kay , January 31, 2010
That is the question that urges us to consider if corporations/government have other motivators besides health, the environment and the community well-being they market in mind.

Please, if you are loaded, create a new auto industry yourself! And while we are at it, let's also add energy storage or conversion devises to all those exercise machines at the all-popular gyms. I'm convinced that harnessing us humans' power running on our hamster wheel exercise machines, green planting all rooftops and switching auto fuel sources from petro to vegetable would create a progressive tecy world that is indeed carbon neutral or better yet, carbon negative.
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Written by TomCasich , January 31, 2010
Excellent post. Why doesn't some entrepreneur start manufacturing WVO cars from scratch so we don't have to convert?
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Written by Tonya Kay , September 26, 2009
Keep inspiring, like you do, Greg.
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Written by Greg Castillo , September 25, 2009
I am inspirational, Tonya. Thanks for the info. I heading over to that forum now and will keep an eye out for your upcoming post.
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Written by Tonya Kay , September 18, 2009
Greg, this is a tough message for me to relay! I would not recommend the place I got mine installed. I hesitate to even speak the name. Why? Because, while the technology was (mostly) there, the craftsmanship was so lacking that I had to repair or replace each and every single component that installer put on. I would not wish that expense or hassle on any of my readers!

But here's the deal. Now knowing what I know and being immersed in the WVO world, I would first consider what type of car you are converting. Different people have different expertise and I really would want a VW TDI expert to convert a Jetta for example, rather than a Mercedes expert. I've also converted a Chevy 3500 utility van and again, that's a whole other story!

If you haven't chosen a car yet, get on the internet and read the forums is one, where you can learn about what problems people generally encounter with different types of vehicals. Sometimes people will actually help you out and say "do not convert such and such - it doesn't "take!"".

Okay ... you've inspired me. I'm going to write this into an article, because it's so long. Next week you will have a complete answer on EcoHearth. I'm so glad you are finding my conversion experience helpful so far!
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Written by Greg Castillo , September 17, 2009

This has gotta be the most impressive blog post I've ever read. I'm about to read your other ones with respect to this topic, so if this question is answered in any of them, my apologies, but for those of us to whom "fixing things and using tools" is right up there with speaking Russian, where might one go to have those conversion kits installed?
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Eco Tip

Unplug appliances when not in use. Your electronics—computers, TVs, phone chargers—use energy even when they're turned off. Stand-by power can account for as much as 20% of home energy use. Save both energy and money by unplugging your devices, or put them on a power strip that you can turn off when they are not in use.  More tips...

Eco Quote

The packaging for a microwavable 'microwave' dinner is programmed for a shelf life of maybe six months, a cook time of two minutes and a landfill dead-time of centuries. — David Wann, Buzzworm, November 1990   >More quotes...