Mercymount scientists convert car to electric power

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CUMBERLAND—Two Mercymount Country Day seventh graders have learned some very important lessons at an early age that will help guide them for the rest of their lives.

Patrick Collins and Jarred Lorusso, who have been friends and classmates for several years, researched and planned the task of converting an automobile to electric power. The students engaged the help of their science teacher, John Mongillo, and their fathers, Matthew Collins and Gerry Lorusso, to complete the innovative project.

The assignment taught the two young men that nothing is impossible if you have a good idea, develop a comprehensive plan, value teamwork and have faith in your ability and trust in God. They also learned how to fix a car, gained a greater appreciation for the environment and strengthened their bonds with their fathers.

“We do a lot of stuff together,” said Gerry Lorusso, adding that he and his son spent several weekends together working on the project and many nights problem solving. “It was a very good experience.”

“They typically come up with wacky ideas together,” Matthew Collins remarked, adding that the conversion project also taught the students how to use a variety of tools.

The impetus for the project was a book, “From Gasoline to Electric Power: A Conversion Project,” that the two young scientists, the sixth graders, spotted last year on Mongillo’s desk. Collins and Lorusso devoured the book and became fascinated with the idea of converting a gasoline powered vehicle to electricity.

With the advice and direction of local car dealers, volunteer mechanics and Electric Vehicles of America (EVA), a New Hampshire-based organization that assists owners in transforming automobiles to electric power, the two-father son teams transformed a 1997 Saturn to with a manual transmission to electric power.

Mechanics Jim Lynch, Curt Hathaway, Jay Azevedo and Mike Erickson, all employees of Lorusso Construction Corp, volunteered their time and expertise to assist with the conversion.

The Marcari Science Fund, which benefits Mercymount science projects, provided the money for the purchase of the vehicle, batteries, and parts. The 86 hour-long project began late last summer and will be completed in a few weeks when improvements to the car’s interior have been made.

During a recent PowerPoint presentation to their class, the two students explained the intricacies of the massive undertaking and the many benefits of electric cars. They emphasized that the goal of the project was to save the environment and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

“Electricity is cheaper than gas,” said Lorusso, “Electricity can come from renewable resources such as solar and wind power.” The students noted that supplies of gas are becoming scarce and electric cars pollute less than gas-powered vehicles.

“Electric cars are much more reliable and require less maintenance than gas-powered cars,” added Lorusso. “You don’t need to get your oil changed every 3,000 miles.”

Collins emphasized that while the net fuel expense per year for a typical gasoline powered vehicle is $1,988, it costs about $510 to operate an electric vehicle which is operated by 10 batteries - six in the trunk and four in the front - for proper weight distribution.

According to the students, there are about 5,000 electric vehicles in the world. It takes about eight hours to fully charge an electric vehicle that has been plugged into a regular outlet. The car can then be driven for 45 miles before the battery must be recharged.

While Collins and Lorusso have become advocates for electric vehicles, they do note that these cars have a few downsides. The vehicles can’t operate when batteries are being recharged, and battery disposal needs to be carefully managed according to government regulations.

According to the students, the extensive project is almost complete. The driver’s seat, which is ripped, will be replaced, and a special stencil was be applied to designate the transformed Saturn as an electric vehicle.

The car will then be inspected, registered and ready to drive. Collins and Lorusso will donate the electric vehicle to Mercymount’s “Bid for Kids” Auction to be held on March 27.

“I have seen many science projects,” recalled Mercy Sister Martha Mulligan, principal of Mercymount Country Day School for 17 years. “This is just awesome . ... They are giving back to the school what they learned.”

To learn about the auction or to bid on the car, call 333-5919.