Members of Samohi's eco-conscious student group Team Marine pose with their VW Beetle, which they are in the process of converting to run on electricity. (photo by Team Marine)

SAMOHI — Environmentally-conscious students here are close to completing the transformation of a gas-guzzling VW Beetle into one that runs entirely on electricity.

All the students in Santa Monica High School’s Team Marine need is money to buy batteries.

If they can secure the funding, the students plan to use the car, which was donated to them by the Poon-Fear family, as a lesson plan on wheels, traveling to local schools to raise awareness about reducing emissions.

So far the students have presented their lesson plan at Lincoln and John Adams middle schools.

Students with Team Marine said converting cars that run on gas is critical because pollutants from exhaust can damage the lungs and aggravate respiratory problems, contribute to the formation of acid rain, reduce the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream, and have the potential to cause cancer.

And then there’s that reliance of foreign oil, a threat to national security.

Students have been working on the electric conversion for roughly a year, said Team Marine Co-captian Cassandra Kliewer. The process consists of removing the gas engine and its components and replacing them with an electrical motor, motor controller, batteries, a converter and other parts.

Batteries are the most important component as they store the energy that propels the car forward. The team wants to use lithium ion batteries because they can hold a lot of juice without taking up much room.

“The only thing we are struggling with is funding for the batteries,” Kliewer said.

As part of the conversion process, the students have created a manual with pictures intended to help others repeat the process. Students have worked with local electric car experts, including Paul Pearson of Gas to Electric Conversions, as well as Samohi’s automotive teacher Dan Cox, and City Hall’s Rick Sikes to develop the manual.

The electric car is seen as a good alternative to gas-powered vehicles because they produce no emissions. While they are not a perfect remedy, since the electricity used to power the cars comes from a power plant that has some emissions, the electric vehicle can greatly reduce carbon emissions because of the higher efficiency of power plants.

Also, as the electric grid gets greener with more solar and wind power, so will the EV.

“Next year we want to build a solar carport on campus so that the car will be completely emission free,” said Team Marine CO-captain Patricio Guerro.

If the students get the money they need to purchase the batteries, they hope to have their Beetle rolling by March.

To help contribute to the cause, contact Team Marine coach Benjamin Kay, a marine biologist and science instructor at Samohi, at bkay@smmusd.org or visit www.teammarine.org.

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