Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mantika: A Chronicle of a Vegetable Oil Conversion

Nature or nurture argument lingers. One may dispute that nature has the most influence, but another may claim otherwise. It is anything but relative. Furthermore, it is contingent upon the subject matter, such as personality traits, appearance, etc. In my case, for example, my character is mostly predisposed by the people that impacted me especially in my rearing years. Among others, they are the individuals that I was directly in contact with or someone I read about or watched on television, like Superman. Many of you may say that even with these exposures, still, I am less than perfect. That is beside the point, however.

My point: What if I apply the same theory in this vegetable oil conversion? Like the nurture rebuttal, let the project be influenced by its environment, any related media or sources of information. Even then, the final product can still be less than flawless. This time, however, I have better control of the process to produce a desirable outcome. Unlike the nurture case, I can be more proactive in the selection process; I can scrutinize every option available and produce the most robust system. This undertaking has two phases: a) research and development (r&d) b) implementation.


In this phase, I research waste vegetable oil (wvo) forums, consult with experts by exchanging e-mail correspondence, namely, Craig Reese the Plant Drive owner, read trade publications, and seek advice from Ed Garcia. A “Jack of all trades,” Garcia is an engineer/electrician/fabricator/mechanic. A good friend of mine, he is a meister of the aforementioned. Therefore, he is enlisted for the task.

There are a number of conversion models available on the market, but Plant Drive’s system is far more superior to others. With the permission of Reese, Garcia and I adopted the Plant Drive’s “3 3-way plumbing” design (Figure 1). It comprises of three three-port valves that directs diesel and wvo from supply tanks (diesel and wvo) to the engine, a switch (Figure 2) to energize and de-energize the valves, an auxiliary fuel tank for wvo, and Vormax, a coolant heated device that warms wvo.

Basically, the switch has three modes: 1)diesel 2)wvo 3)purge. Each of them has to be well orchestrated in order for the system to work effectively. It is analogous in a band. That is, if a drummer cannot coordinate with the cadence of other members, the result is cacophony.

Notwithstanding, in diesel position, one electronic valve would energize for diesel to flow into the engine. This is done before the engine is turned-off for long periods like when parking overnight. Therefore, at initial or cold engine start-ups, a less viscous diesel will be fed through the fuel lines freely and ignite quickly vis-a-vis wvo that has higher viscosity, thus less ignition properties. This is the main reason that there is an extra tank for wvo. At the same time, this method eliminates cross-contamination.

Notwithstanding, with wvo switch activated, another electronic valve would open for wvo to feed through the fuel lines and into the engine. This manual switchover is prompted when the engine has warmed-up, 150 degrees, and wvo has been coolant-heated to at least 90 degrees.

Notwithstanding, on purge mode, the other valve would divert leftover wvo in the fuel lines to the auxillary tank. At the same time, supplies diesel into the lines. This final mode is critical as it serve as scrubber. Not only that it clears wvo, prone to polymerization and solidification, but also makes cold-engine starting easier. After 30 seconds in this position, it must be toggled back to diesel.

In sum, at initial start-ups, the switch is on default: diesel. When the desired temperature is reached, simply turn on wvo. Drive to a destination leaving a clean footprint behind versus a stifling one. Then, before the vehicle is parked longterm, click on purge momentarily. Thereafter, activate back to default before the engine is turned off.

As obtained from my due diligence, there are two more tools needed. They are inline wvo temperature and auxiliary tank sending units. Both of them have gauges in the dash (Figure 2).


After countless hours of research and consultation, it is time to apply the information gathered. Of course, subject vehicle and component procurement, must precede all of this.

In 2007, I purchased a wvo-equipped 1979 Mercedes Benz 300SD. It served as a “guinea pig.” Issues such as premature fuel filter clogs were frequent. During the few months of ownership, I learned to perform fuel system maintenance and proper wvo purification. The latter was achieved by allowing time for sediments to settle via solar heat for at least two days. Then, sifting wvo through a one micron bag filter.

I also experimented with different wvo sources. In due time, I learned that Japanese and Indian restaurants are the best source. It is mainly because their oils are non-hydrogenated and animal fat free. Consequently, I established a clientele of four local restaurant sources called accounts. All of them use soybean oil. The supply turned out to be sustainable even with 300 to 500 weekly mileage.

Fortunately, my accounts produce some of the cleanest wvo. In fact, Japanese chefs only cook tempura while Indian chefs solely fry onions. When these oils are mixed together, the result is Asian fusion in culinary proportions. Combust in the diesel engine, the by-product out of the tail pipe is a sultry aroma with hints of curry and onions. Hmmmm scrumptious! This proves that Indian cuisine is overpowering.

A recent acquisition is a 1998 Dodge Ram 2500 (Figure 3), the subject for the conversion, with 12 valve Cummins. Based on feedback from wvo users alike, this is one of the most reliable vegetable oil conversion candidate.

Now, between April (lovely spouse) and I, we have a fleet of diesels. She drives a 2010 Jetta wagon TDI. Dubbed as the clean diesel and equipped with 2nd generation diesel, its emission is cleaner than gas fueled cars. She loves it more than her other car, 2002 BMW X5, mainly because of its fuel efficiency and compact stature. At one point, she was the primary skeptic of my wvo endeavors, but later learned to appreciate them as soon as we begin to reap its benefits.

Most of the components mentioned earlier are procured from Others like rubber hoses, brass fittings, electrical wires, nuts and bolts were bought from hardware store and automobile parts retailer.

Alas! We are ready to install. Here is the sequence:
1) Bolt auxillary tank in the truck bed. (Figure 4) (Cesar)
2) Mount Vormax on the auxillary tank. (Figure 5) (Cesar)
3) Plumb coolant and vwo. Then, connect them accordingly. (Both)
4) Incorporate the three three-port valves in the fuel system. (Ed)
5) Crimp electrical wires from the valves and sending units with their
respective gauges, relays, power source, ground post or switch. (Ed)
6) Bleed the coolant and fuel system. (Cesar)
7) Do a system check. (Both)
8) Run the engine w/ diesel and vwo. (Cesar)

One may dismiss this chronology easy, but it is not. Not only that it is time consuming, but also labor intensive and mind boggling. Ed and I employed our brain storming as well as critical thinking skills to make this possible. Two heads are better than one!

Nevertheless, we ran into a system glitch. When swo is on, the engine sputters and shuts off abruptly. “Let’s start from the basics; diagnose the electrical then the fuel lines,” Ed suggests. It took two separate occasions to solve this. In our first meeting, we check the electrical connection for accuracy, but no problem there. In our second meeting, we spot for hose leaks, and not a single trickle found. I begin to worry.

“Your Cummins might not be a good candidate after all,” exclaims Ed. I ponder:
This could not be. A number of these conversions are applied on Dodge Cummins. Some logged more than 100,000 trouble-free miles with this alternative fuel. I did my research.

A light bulb lit and I assert, “How about replacing the primary fuel filter?” I did just that. When finished, I insert the key, crank the engine and toggle to swo. Momentarily, that familiar scrumptious aura is eminent. I am elated. In celebration, I invite Ed for lunch at a Japanese restaurant.


The funds, time and effort invested in this venture has a purpose beyond its material realm. It is not one to boast arrogance. It is not one to threat the oil companies (they may not even feel a pinch). It is not one to make a demeaning statement. But is it to satisfy a sense of accomplishment. It is to campaign an eco-friendly lifestyle. Most of all, it is to benefit my loved ones and their future ones.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5


Sight Glass

Switch/Oil Temp/WVO Tank Gauge

Pod:Transmission Temp/Pyrometer/Turbo Boost



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Media Frenzy

After his individual time trial 4th place finish, Levi Liepheimer dons team Astana's white long-sleeve jersey. Thereafter, he rolls toward my direction. As he closes to about 4 feet, news reporters halt him for an interview. There I am caught in the middle of a media frenzy. Around me, I see reporters & camera men alike with their dangling "Tour of Amgen media passes."
As they pursue with their interrogation, snap shots with their foot-long, lensed S.L.R. & aim with their sophisticated video cams, I face a dilema. I am perplexed whether to dash out to the curbside where I belong as a spectator or hold my ground and blend in with the newscasters. I opt for the latter. Dwarfed by its gigantic counterparts, I unzip my miniature Cannon Power Shot from its protective pouch. Momentarily, I aim from its built-in liquid crystal display & start clicking.

Siclista Weekend Warrior Challenge 7/13/08

Congrats to the winners as well as the finishers of Sunday’s Siclista Weekend Warrior Challenge. The stimulating route originates in Newark Java to the infamous Old La Honda (OLH) ascent, then back to the point of origin. Here is the synopsis.
At 8a.m., the enthusiasts rolled at a conversational pace. It was peaceful until four ambitious bunch breakaway as they approach the turbulence plagued Dumbarton Bridge (DB). On one hand, Jack precariously heads the leaders. On the other hand, the peloton maintains its complacency. There is strength in numbers. Thus, the peloton can easily reel the leaders in and swallow them alive. This group is confident that the attack was too early. Shortly thereafter just a few miles after the DB descent, sure enough the quartet was caught.
Rodge distresses the peaceful peloton. He sets a gutsy pace to grab the first Green Jersey at the Arastradero’s final hump. Grinding a very heavy gear, he demolishes anyone who tried to outpace him. Unfortunately, he calls it a day leaving no chance to defend his title. A word of caution, they are ought to test you again next time around.
They are now in Portola Loop. Jack attacks again. This guy is so aggressive; he redlines his heart rate every effort he takes. Organizers scrambles for an award dedicated to him. He initiates the Red Jersey—the most aggressive rider.
Spencer, the newly-wed, is not his day. Every time he attempts to cover attacks or endeavors a sprint, his chain drops. He blames his prodigal brother, Jr., for tampering the precise adjustment of his rig.
A hard left to OLH, the peloton scales the biggest ascent of the day. A rider with a noticeable climbing prowess is no other than Jerry, the other half of Nancy, wins the Polka Dot Jersey. The Maharlikan spins his way up OLH. He is the first one to crest. To celebrate, this victorious mountain goat even turns around at the summit and descends to check on laggers.
I call him the luckiest man alive because his significant other rides bike with him. Of course, Nancy receives the Pink Jersey. She withstands any male pedal power to this day. Indeed, she outperforms most of the guys on flats and climbs.
The rest of the leg is the rolling Skyline Boulevard down to eerie 84 East then back track to Newark. I enjoy this descent, so I lead. I catch three slow moving motorcyclists. I pass all of them and became their rabbit. I carve the hairpin turns and sprint straight-aways. I hear their engine roar and so I push some more. Man, that is exhilarating.
On our way home, we face a hurdle: the turbulent DB. This time it is cross and head wind. However, it did not stop Jack and John M, the Red Jersey and White Jersey (best young rider) laureates accordingly. On the other side, it was flat but still experiencing violent winds. It was Jack and John M head-to-head to the finish. However, Gonzalo, another Green Jersey victor, snags their aspirations.
Special thanks to Roy, Romy, Tony Fuji and Tony Madone for pulling the peloton together to work as a single unit.Folks, this is just a precursor to a more challenging ride ahead. I will post the details of Spencer’s Potluck Road Ride soon. Backed by popular demand, the route is Stevens Canyon, Redwood Gulch, Hwy 9, Skyline Blvd, Pagemill, Foothill, Stevens Canyon, Celebrate Spencer’s wedding.Participants: Roy, Spencer, Jerry & Nancy, Romy, Rodge, Tony Fuji, Tony Madone, Cesar, John M. & Jack

Friday, November 30, 2007

Plan B in a Hurry

Event: CCCX Race 5, 3/31/07
Location: Toro Park, Salinas, California
Course: About 5 miles/lap x 4
1st half is fire road ascent and the rest is fast and twisty singletrack descent
Category: Sport

Plan B in a Hurry

After a foggy early Saturday morning, the sun starts to heat up just in time for a warm up run for the 11 a.m. sport category race. This is my first endeavor in this competitive class. With that in mind, my goal, as an underdog rookie, is to finish in the middle of the pack. The other is to go light because it is a climber’s race. Dislodge all unnecessary weight: defecate, water bottle and tool pack. Another tactic is that I enlist Jr. and Auggie for critical tasks. The former is to provide water and Monster power drink and the latter, agua. The two station in separate logistical stations.

At around 11 a.m., all sport category racers muster at the starting line. Juxtaposed as we anticipate for the whistle, my inner thoughts were full of trepidation. A few moments later, we are racing.

Lap 1: At about eighth of a mile, the course begins with flat paved road before a long fire road ascent. In the climb, I find myself in third position. Only Morgan Stanley guy and Evolution Racing dude are in front. We are like a locomotive scaling wheel-to-wheel from each other. We retain a very good momentum that we are passing most of the younger sport level pack that went ahead of us.

Curious and wary about the fast tempo, I begin to wander if the peleton, at about 30 bike lengths behind us, were just pacing, and waiting to swallow us alive. As we progress up the hill, the two leaders push harder and I pursue just half a wheel behind.

The three of us descend together. I remember before the race, “Be very careful going down the singletrack especially the off-camber turns and deep cliffs,” Auggie warns. He did not wink as he cautions. It means to me that he is dead serious. It is sure enough it is treacherous. I skid, go off the trail, and overshoot hairpin turns.

According to plan, my feed zone guys are there for underway replenishment as well as time gap and position updates.

Lap 2: The latter scenario remains the same until the second lap. In the middle of the climb, the Morgan Stanley guy presses an unsustainable stride leaving Evolution Racing dude and I behind. I look back and the rest of the group is nowhere to be seen.

I am beginning to understand the dynamics of this battle. I strongly believe that I can win. The initial strategy is revised in a hurry—Plan B. I gather all arsenal recruited while in training. Together, they will work in synergy at my disposal: sprint, high cadence, fluid pedal strokes, climb seated a la Ned Overend and conserve energy.

“Click-click” sounded my gears as I upshift to keep up with Evolution Racing dude. That noise signals him that I am too close to his comfort zone. He started to hammer up the climb and down the dreadfully fast, windy singletrack. I linger in the attacking distance. However, I pant profusely at an alarming 97% of maximum heart rate. Before this damages me, I control my breathing and cadence—inhale…one to two pedal strokes…exhale. Much better!

Another agua feed was provided, but where is my Monster drink?

Lap 3: As Evolution Racing dude and I ascend wheel-to-wheel for the third time, I notice that his speed became sluggish. “How are you doing?’ he probes. Before responding, I explored if this is his means of reconnaissance to find out my current state of fitness. “Oh man, I’m dying!” I equivocate. Truthfully, I still have some strength to spare if coerced. His speed plummets as we exchange pleasantries.

Momentarily, deep inside me is an aggressive devil’s advocate. My conscience reverberates that it is time to attack. I, on the other hand, is not certain if he is just bluffing. Nevertheless, I execute a bold move: I pass him with hesitation.

A few seated pedal strokes later, I glance at my periphery and I see no one. Among other factors, I believe the most compelling reason that he weakens is my constant presence behind him. No matter how he surges to extend a minuscule lead, I was always there to match his ploy. That alone is a lot of pressure.

After Auggie’s feedzone, I am about to crest on top of the peak. He hollers,”Hammer up the hill!” Without my knowledge, another racer jockeys to overtake me. He showcases a white Cycle Sport team jersey and a full suspension Santa Cruz bike. He succeeds yelling,”Yeah, hammer up the hill!” However, I maintain my composure and retain a safe distance.

We are in the first part of the downhill and I surge right pass him. Then, just a few seconds later, he counters. He has the right rig and notable descending skills, so I let him lead. The constant tremor in the downhill section unbearably stresses my upper back. I knew that this will eventually happen because my body is not used to the rigors of the off-road. I only rode my mountain bike less than five times this year. Almost all my training is done on road bike. My remedy is to stretch my spine every time there is a chance.

There is another water supply from Jr., but where is my Monster drink?

Lap 4: This is the final round. I am exhausted. My legs are heavy. I have to organize my maneuver; otherwise, the white jersey guy will grab second place.

I test his climbing endurance, and he can hang. Therefore, I save my drastically depleting energy by setting a high cadence and passively sit right behind him. Similar to the Evolution Racing dude’s fate, it should also hassle him psychologically. If this is true, he does not show a slight weakness in his pedal stroke. He resumes propelling strong.

The downhill begins. I already knew that his descending dexterity is unmatched to mine. However, I picture that there is a last power climb about 100 yards before the finish line. In fact, the same spot is where Jr. is stationed. Luckily, I still have enough ammunition to power sprint. Now, all I have to do is to remain within attacking distance, five to six bike lengths. Then, bombard him with all I got at that particular point.

As we move toward the final ascent (30-40 feet long), I shift to gear seven in my rear cog and attack profusely. This assault was eminent. He is left behind.

I am elated and surprised with my performance. “Bring it home, bring it home, bring it home,” I chant on top of my voice as I fly by the checkered flag.

In retrospect, even though the Morgan Stanley guy outperforms me, I do not feel bad because an expert level that he is, he only had a minute and six seconds lead. I am expecting at least 3 minutes lag period.

What happened to my Monster drink? It turned out that Spencer got thirsty and gulped it without Jr.’s knowledge. Man, I needed it so bad at the last lap.

1) Jr. and Auggie thank you for the fluid replenishment. Also, I appreciate for driving me, Auggie.
2) I extend my gratitude to Siclista, Tropa and bay area clubs for the training rides.
A) Karen Brems, Ned Overend, Dr. Ed Burke, Chris Carmichael (obtained through their articles and books)
B) Dave Schaefer and Red Felix (acquired via question and answer sessions)