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August 2012

August 31, 2012

DOE to fund 14 research projects on deepwater and Arctic methane hydrates; potential future energy supply

Methane hydrate can form in Arctic and marine environments. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected 14 new research projects that will be a part of an expanding portfolio of projects designed to increase the understanding of methane hydrates’ potential as a future energy supply. Methane hydrates are 3D ice-lattice structures with natural gas locked inside, and are found both onshore and offshore—including under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along nearly every continental shelf in the world.

The new research projects are intended to advance understanding of the nature and occurrence of deepwater and Arctic gas hydrates and their implications for future resource development and environmental performance. The selected projects build on the completion of a successful test earlier this year that was able to safely extract a steady flow of natural gas from methane hydrates on the North Slope of Alaska. (Earlier post.)

While prior DOE research and outside studies have confirmed that the methane hydrate resource volume present appears to be substantial and the accumulations that can be explored for and produced using existing technologies are potentially numerous, significant research remains to:

  1. analyze the role of gas hydrates in the natural environment;
  2. demonstrate that gas hydrates can be produced commercially in an environmentally responsible manner; and
  3. further assess resource volumes, particularly in deepwater settings.

These new projects, managed by the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, will focus research on field programs for deepwater hydrate characterization, the response of methane hydrate systems to changing climates, and advances in the understanding of gas-hydrate-bearing deposits.

The following projects have been selected for award negotiations:

Characterizing the Affect of Environmental Change on Gas-Hydrate-Bearing Deposits
Lead organization
Description DOE Funding
University of California at San Diego Researchers at the University of California at San Diego will design, build, and test an electromagnetic (EM) system designed for very shallow water use and will apply the system to determine the extent of offshore permafrost on the US Beaufort inner shelf. $507,000
University of Mississippi Using electronic measurements, the researchers will investigate variations in hydrate system dynamics beneath hydrate-bearing mounds on the continental slope of the northern Gulf of Mexico in response to changes in local environmental conditions. $420,000
University of New Hampshire The University of New Hampshire will study the dynamic response of gas hydrate systems and their potential impact on sea-floor stability, ocean ecology, and global climate by reconstructing the paleo-positions of certain parameters related to the release of methane at three sites on the Cascadia margin. $118,000
Oregon State University Oregon State University will generate computer models that will enable researchers to interpret modern-day releases of methane into the atmosphere – or methane fluxes - and reconstruct past episodes of methane flux in gas hydrate-bearing regions from shallow geochemical data. $89,000
Southern Methodist University Researchers at Southern Methodist University will conduct numerical modeling, field data collection, and extensive laboratory analyses to characterize the state of the upper boundary of pressures and temperatures where gas hydrates are in a stable form on the Alaskan Beaufort continental slope. $1,118,000
The University of Texas at Austin The project at the University of Texas at Austin will develop conceptual and numerical models to analyze conditions under which gas will be expelled from existing marine accumulations of gas hydrate into the ocean, which could potentially have a damaging effect to the ecosystem. $1,176,000
Fundamental Properties of Gas Hydrate-bearing Sediments
Lead organization
Description DOE Funding
Colorado School of Mines The School of Mines will conduct a series of laboratory experiments to determine how methane hydrate can be detected using seismic methods with the goal of increasing the reliability and accuracy of seismic readings in methane hydrates. $225,000
Georgia Tech Research Corporation The research to be conducted by Georgia Tech will advance the understanding of the behavior of gas hydrates hosted in fine-grained sediments such as clay or silt, and will evaluate extraction methods relevant to the potential to produce gas from such sediments. $626,000
Wayne State University Wayne State’s proposed research will advance scientific understanding of parameters used to represent capillary pressure and relative permeability in the numerical simulation of hydrate dissociation and gas production. $178,000
Marine Gas Hydrate Characterization
Lead organization
Description DOE Funding
Consortium for Ocean Leadership The consortium will coordinate scientific input and develop plans for future marine hydrate expeditions to conduct research drilling, recovering samples of the formation, logging and analytical activities to assess the geologic occurrence, regional context, and characteristics of methane hydrate deposits along the continental margins of the United States, likely focusing on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic margin. $160,000
Fugro GeoConsulting, Inc. Fugro GeoConsulting has been selected for two projects for a total of $591,000 to develop plans for a pressure coring program at locations in the Walker Ridge 313 and Green Canyon 955 areas of the Gulf of Mexico and to develop analytical techniques that help better identify the existence of methane hydrate accumulations. The first project will focus on preparing detailed scientific and operational plans and recommendations for all aspects of a future offshore drilling, determining the hydrate deposit characteristics through electronic measurement, and recovering samples of hydrate under pressure so its characteristics may be more closely studied. The second project, which will receive $147,000, will develop techniques to generate more robust and reliable information on methane hydrate accumulations, including analyzing seismic data to determine how they interact with free gas accumulations. $591,000
The Ohio State University Ohio State University will conduct research in collaboration with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to increase our understanding of the occurrence, volume and distribution of natural gas hydrates in the northern Gulf of Mexico using more than 1,700 petroleum industry well logs that penetrate the gas hydrate stability zone, or the offshore depths and locations where gas hydrates flourish. $286,000
Oklahoma State University The research proposed by Oklahoma State will help to further develop an understanding of the structural and geologic controls on hydrate occurrence and distribution in Walker Ridge 313 and Green Canyon 955 using new techniques to interpret gas hydrate occurrences in existing seismic data, along with well data collected during prior Energy Department research efforts at those sites. $96,000


August 31, 2012 in Arctic, Deepwater, Natural Gas, Ports and Marine | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

ALTe Powertrain Technologies to form $200M JV in China; 4 factories plus $70M services contract for range-extended plug-in light commercial powertrain

US-based ALTe Powertrain Technologies, the developer of a range-extended plug-in electric hybrid powertrain for light commercial vehicles (earlier post), has entered into a Joint Venture agreement in China with MESA Century New Energy Technology, Inc. A total of US$200 million has been committed to the JV at this stage.

Under the agreement, ALTe will own one third of the Joint Venture known as MESA Industrial Technology Corporation. Using $130 million, the company will open four factories in China while receiving a US$70-million engineering services contract to design a system specifically for the China fleet market. The JV will target the medium-duty bus and truck market in China with opportunities to export globally on multiple vehicle applications.

At full capacity in the forthcoming four factories, MESA is projected to realize production volumes of at least 240,000 units annually.

Additionally, the Joint Venture will foster the creation of new energy vehicle component technology company partnerships dedicated to supplying the JV and ALTe with advanced, high-quality, efficient and affordable electronic devices needed in the growing electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle ecosystem. At full capacity in the forthcoming four factories, MESA is projected to realize production volumes of at least 240,000 units annually. A total of $200 million USD has been committed to the JV at this stage.

The current ALTe system can be retrofit into existing fleet vehicles while also being applied in glider new vehicles to increase their fuel economy and lower emissions. Designed to replace a base V-8 internal combustion engine powertrain, the current system’s technology improves fuel economy from 80–200%.

The JV signing ceremony was held at the Sunyi Industrial Park in Beijing where the JV will locate one of its assembly factories and a R&D center.

China is clearly going to be the leader in adoption of New Energy vehicles due to its sheer size and growing needs. The commercial vehicle segment is an intelligent first market to focus on and we plan to continue to expand from there.

—S. Moody Alavi, Managing Director of MESA Century

Simon Ahn, Board Member and Lead Investor of ALTe facilitated the transaction with the participation of the Global Cleantech Fund, LLC based out of Atlanta, GA.

Mesa Century is a newly formed investment holding company established in China to facilitate investments in clean technology companies based in China.

August 31, 2012 in China, Hybrids, Plug-ins | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

AMP heavy-duty electric step van passes initial testing

AMP Electric Vehicles, an electric drive motor vehicle manufacturer, and Navistar International, jointly announced the successful initial testing of an all-electric 1,000 cubic foot step van as the first results of their development agreement. The delivery of the van marks AMP’s first step in its development deal with Navistar for large commercial EVs built for the urban delivery market.

A typical 1,000 cubic foot delivery truck may make more than 200 stops per day and still travel under 100 miles. The electric vehicles built under this agreement are designed for 100 miles of range on a single charge and have a maximum gross vehicle weight of 19,500 lbs. The electrification architecture is based on the AMP platform, and has been engineered to be suitable for both re-powering of existing diesel vehicles in a fleet as well as new vehicles that may be ordered by fleets in the future.

AMP recently released two battery-electric demonstration models: the AMP MLe, based on the Mercedes ML 350, and the AMP GCE, based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, both qualifying for the federal tax credit for EVs. In the commercial area, the company also concentrates on the electrification of fleet vehicles, including heavy-duty trucks and vans.

AMP Holding, Inc., the parent company of AMP Electric Vehicles Inc., also secured a commitment of $7,500,000 from Kodiak Capital Group, LLC, a Newport-Beach based private investment fund, subject to such commitment being registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as other conditions.

AMP is a perfect match for our interest in the electric vehicle industry. We are especially interested in AMP’s EV heavy truck fleet vehicle development and production in the fleet vehicle industry. The potential for this patent-pending technology is very exciting, and we at Kodiak see the advantages of making this sizable commitment into AMP.

—Colin Manners, Director, Kodiak Capital Group, LLC.

August 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Volkswagen Group to build new transmission plant in China

The Volkswagen Group is expanding its production network in China with a new transmission plant in Tianjin.

The plant in Tianjin is designed for an annual production capacity of 450,000 units. Investment in the first stage of the plant totals approx. €230 million. Production is scheduled to begin at the end of 2014. Tianjin is one of the largest cities in China and is located some 150 kilometers east of Beijing.

Volkswagen says it is basing construction of the Tianjin plant on highest technical standards and focuses on the resource efficiency and environmental compatibility of production plant and methods.

Volkswagen will also be joining up with the best local vocational schools to set up a competence center for tooling technology in Tianjin to train teachers with a view to meeting demand for technically trained and specialized skilled employees in the medium term. This project includes the introduction of a dual vocational training program modeled on the German system.

The People’s Republic of China is the largest sales market for the Volkswagen Group. In 2011, the company delivered 2.26 million vehicles to customers in the country. In the first seven months of this year, deliveries rose by 17.1% to 1.51 million units.

August 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BSEE authorizes Shell to begin preparatory top-hole activities for drilling in Chukchi Sea; activities limited to non-oil-bearing zones

US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director James A. Watson announced that Shell will be allowed to move forward with certain limited preparatory activities on the seafloor for drilling in the Chukchi Sea offshore Alaska; these activities are limited to non-oil-bearing zones of the seabed.

Shell said that under the new permit, once the Noble Discoverer drill ship reaches its drill location, it will connect with anchors that have been pre-staged in the Chukchi Sea and work on the top-holes will commence.

It is our highest priority that any activities that occur offshore Alaska be held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards. Shell’s applications for permits to drill into potential oil reservoirs remain under review, and Shell will not be authorized to drill into areas that may contain oil unless and until the required spill containment system is fully certified, inspected, and located in the Arctic. Today’s announcement authorizes Shell to move forward with limited activities well short of oil-bearing zones that can be done safely now prior to the certification and arrival of the containment system.

—James Watson

Mud-line cellar and top holes. Not to scale. Click to enlarge.

Under the new permit, Shell will be allowed to begin certain preparatory activities in the Chukchi Sea including the creation of a mudline cellar, a safety feature that ensures that the blowout preventer is adequately protected below the level of the seafloor. Shell is also authorized to drill and set the first two strings of casing into shallow non-oil-bearing zones.

The mud-line cellar is a 20 x 40 foot area excavated into the seafloor, and is intended as an insurance measure to protect the blowout preventer (BOP) from the risk of damage by any large, unseasonal ice flows. During the majority of the season, the wells Shell plans to drill are in ice-fre waters. If ice does come near the prospects, the mud-line cellar provides an extra level of protection against any ice flows that might reach to the sea floor.

The top holes that Shell will drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas include the mud-line cellar and drilling and installation of casing strings that are cemented into place in the first 1,300 feet of the well. Once the top hole is established, the well can be drilled to total or partial depth—and re-entered later if desired.

The mud-line cellars and top holes typically take between 10 to 15 days to complete. During mud-line cellar construction and top-hole drilling, Shell does not expect to encounter any hydrocarbon-bearing zones. To be assured of this, Shell has extensively studied seismic and geological data from the prospect areas, including comparisons with the geology of the currently producing North Slope fields. The wells will ultimately be between 7,000 and 9,000 feet deep.

Under conditions and requirements set forth in Shell’s Chukchi and Beaufort Sea Exploration Plans and Oil Spill Response Plans, which were approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and BSEE respectively, Shell is required to receive certification of its containment system—which is designed to capture flowing liquid hydrocarbons in the event of a loss of well control—by the US Coast Guard and have the vessel positioned in the Arctic before any drilling into oil-bearing zones can occur.

BSEE engineers recently conducted an initial inspection of Shell’s containment system, but the company has yet to secure the final Coast Guard certification.

BSEE inspectors will be present on the Noble Discoverer to provide continuous oversight and monitoring of all approved activities. BSEE safety experts have already conducted inspections of the drillship and Shell’s response equipment.

August 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Toyota developing external power supply system and V2H for fuel cell buses

FC Bus Power Supply System and the V2H System. Click to enlarge.

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) has developed an external power supply system that uses electricity generated within a fuel cell bus (FC bus) to supply electrical power to devices such as home electrical appliances. An FC bus—based on the FCHV-BUS (Fuel cell hybrid vehicle-bus)—equipped with the new power supply system has two electrical outlets (AC 100 V, 1.5 kW) inside the cabin that can supply a maximum output of 3 kW and potentially power home appliances continuously for more than 100 hours.

As part of the emergency power-supply training section of the disaster-control training to be conducted by Aichi Prefecture and Toyota City on 2 September, the system is to power approximately 20 information display monitors inside a disaster control headquarters tent.

Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) can supply a much greater amount of electrical power than electric vehicles (EVs), Toyota noted. Thus, FC buses, with their large amount of stored hydrogen, hold promise as potential mobile power-supply vehicles that can be used at such places as evacuation centers following disasters.

TMC is also developing a vehicle-to-home (V2H) system for supplying electricity from an FC bus to a building’s existing electrical wiring with the goal of providing a maximum output of 9.8 kW for 50 hours. (Toyota has already developed a V2H system for light-duty EVs and PHVs. Earlier post.)

With a full tank of hydrogen, an FC bus with the V2H system could be used to power the lights inside an average school gymnasium (with a power consumption of approximately 100 kWh) for approximately five days (assuming the lights are on 12 hours per day).

TMC plans to test this V2H system for FC buses in 2013 and 2014 as part of the Toyota City Low-Carbon Verification Project, which has been adopted as one of the Next-Generation Energy and Social System Demonstration Projects being promoted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Units of the FCHV-BUS are currently in use on various routes in Japan, such as within the environs of the Central Japan International Airport, between the Tokyo International Airport and the Tokyo metropolitan area, and within Toyota City.

August 31, 2012 in Fuel Cells, Heavy-duty, Hydrogen, Japan, V2X | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Hitachi leading European project on cooperative connected infrastructure for fully electric vehicles

eCo-FEV project concept. Click to enlarge.

Hitachi Europe Ltd., through its Information and Communication Technologies R&D Laboratory (ICTL), will   a project funded by the European Commission aimed at developing an integrated IT electric mobility platform that enables the connection and information exchanges between multiple infrastructure systems—such as road IT infrastructure, Electric Vehicle (EV) backend infrastructure and EV charging infrastructure—that are relevant to the Fully Electric Vehicle (FEV).

Over this platform, multiple advanced electric mobility services are able to be provided to FEV users to improve the energy management efficiency and usability of the FEV, for example, in the context of Smart Cities.

The project is named eCo-FEV, for “efficient Cooperative infrastructure for Fully Electric Vehicles”, and is within the the FP7 Work Programme 2011 COOPERATION under Grant agreement Nº 314411, addressing the objective GC-ICT-2011.6.8 ICT for fully electric vehicles. The estimated total cost of the project is €4,265,317 (US$5,338,471), with funding from the EC of €2,960,000 (US$3,704,736).

eCo-FEV architecture. Click to enlarge.

The electric mobility cooperative platform is an intermediate platform between use cases and FEV end users. It is the objective of the eCo-FEV project to propose an open architecture in order to enable the extensibility and flexibility of the eCo-FEV concept in the follow up deployment in different implementation situations, such as implementation site local requirements, specific use case requirements, client requirements and so on. This architecture provides a flexible coupling between user services, infrastructure systems and FEVs by a common platform that provides common facilities.

eCo-FEV will start on 1 September and will last for 33 months. There are 12 other project partners: Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (France); Centro Ricerche Fiat S.C.p.A. (Italy); European Center for Information and Communication Technologies GmbH (Germany); Politecnico di Torino (Italy); Renault SAS represented by GIE REGIENOV (France); Technische Universität Berlin (Germany); Società Italiana Traforo Autostradale del Frejus S.p.A. (Italy); BlueThink S.p.A. (Italy); Facit Research GmbH & Co. KG (Germany); Conseil général de l'Isère (France); ENERGRID S.p.A. (Italy); and Schulz - Institute for Economic Research and Consulting GmbH (Germany).

Hitachi’s contribution to the project will be mainly in the areas of advanced Car Information Systems and Services, as this is an area where Hitachi Automotive Systems, Ltd. has major strengths.

ICTL of Hitachi Europe has been or is now a partner in several EC- or national-funded projects such as like GeoNet, iTETRIS, PRE-DRIVE C2X, COVEL, PRISM, AutoI, Secricom, Phosphorus, DRIVE C2X and SCORE@F.


August 31, 2012 in Connected vehicles, Electric (Battery) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Australian shipping emissions identified

Ship engine exhaust emissions make up more than a quarter of nitrogen oxide emissions generated in the Australian region according to a recently-published study by CSIRO and the Australian Maritime College in Launceston. Nitrogen oxide is a non-greenhouse gas, unlike similarly named nitrous oxide.

The remainder comes from road and air transport, energy generation, and industrial processes. Global studies indicate that shipping emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur contribute to the formation of photochemical smog and particles near land and in ports.

The authors, Dr. Ian Galbally from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, and the Australian Maritime College’s Dr. Laurie Goldsworthy estimate that approximately 30% of anthropogenic nitrogen oxide emissions and 20% of oxides of sulfur emissions generated in the Australian region may come from shipping.

These are non-greenhouse gases which have the potential to affect the air quality near coastal regions, and have consequences for human health and amenity.

Dr. Galbally said around 10% of global shipping freight passes through Australian ports annually.

Shipping is a major driver in the Australian economy, with 753 Mt of international exports worth $202 billion passing through Australian ports in 2008-2009. There is limited knowledge about the emissions from ships in coastal regions and ports in Australia, the effects of these emissions on air quality in the surrounding coastal and portside urban regions, or potential effects on human health<./em>

We’re seeing increasing regulation of land-based emissions but limited regulation of shipping emissions and expect that in the near-future there will be a need to monitor more closely emissions from shipping.

—Dr. Ian Galbally

The ports of Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are located where seasonally-prevailing onshore winds dominate and the pollutants from shipping frequently will be carried into the air-sheds of these major urban population centres.

The authors commenced this study with measurements of ship exhaust emissions on the coastal cement carrier MV Goliath.

Dr. Goldsworthy said it is possible to quantify emissions generated based on knowledge of fuel type, fuel origin, engine size, cargo, and speed.

We know from previous studies and the Australian Pollutant Inventory that ship emissions off the coast of Australia are substantially larger than in-port ship emissions. Nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions at sea are comparable in magnitude with other national sources such as energy generation and industry. They are potentially significant contributors to the air-sheds of major coastal cities.

—Dr. Laurie Goldsworthy

The study appeared recently in the journal Air Quality and Climate Change, the journal of the Clean Air Society of Australia and New Zealand.

August 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Honda begins lease sales of Fit EV in Japan

Honda Motor Co., Ltd. has begun lease sales of the Fit EV (earlier post) to local governments and businesses in Japan. Honda plans to lease approximately 200 units of the Fit EV in the next two years, mostly to local governments and businesses.

The Fit EV development team adopted two key words—“Fun” and “Mottainai” (no waste)—and strived to 1) create a vehicle with greater range requiring less battery capacity, 2) further pursue motor drive performance, and 3) eliminate any waste of time during battery charging and other areas.

To achieve these points, Honda adopted a basic package of the Fit with its compact body size and occupant comfort and planned the maximization of the energy efficiency of EV. As a result, the Fit EV has achieved the current best AC energy consumption rate of 106 Wh/km and one-charge mileage of 225 km (140 miles) in JC08 mode.

August 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Aisin Seki develops new economic electric water cooling pump for automobiles

Aisin Seki electric water cooling pump installed in engine (red circle). © Aisin Seiki. Click to enlarge.

Aisin Seki Co., Ltd has developed a smaller, cheaper electric cooling pump through some effective efficiency optimisations. Cars traditionally use mechanical water cooling pumps, which have a flow rate dependent on the engine speed. Electric cooling pumps offer greater control over the water flow allowing significant fuel economies. However, electric pumps are traditionally much larger than their mechanical counterparts.

Among other features, the Aisin electric pump uses a newly shaped impeller to improve performance. In addition, the design positions the components so that both the motor efficiency and the centrifugal pump mutually benefit. The pump also uses fewer components, allowing it to occupy less space.

Aisin Seki electric water cooling pump (connecting side). © Aisin Seiki. Click to enlarge.

With the efficiency improvements less heat is generated. The pump design also incorporates an aluminium enclosure, which acts as a heat sink, further easing the heat resistance requirements. The cost of the electric pump was reduced by using an inexpensive and heat resistant printed circuit board.

Background. Controlling the water flow in engine cooling systems has been identified as an effective approach to contributing to reduced fuel consumption. Following work to develop electric pumps for cooling inverters, Aisin Seki has now focused on automobile cooling systems. Electric pumps run independently of the engine speed, which allows greater control over the water flow and consequently reductions in fuel consumption.

Electric pumps should operate in the same part of the engine as mechanical ones. The main issue in attempting to substitute mechanical pumps with electric ones is size. Electric pumps tend to be much larger in order to achieve the same discharge flow rate.

Aisin Seki tackled a number of factors that impinge on the efficiency of electric pumps. These efficiency enhancements mean that the size of their pumps can be decreased. Three elements affect the overall efficiency of the electric pump: the driver, the motor and the pump itself, which generally has a low efficiency.

  1. Improving pump efficiency. Optimizations to the shape of the impeller enabled more effective pumping operation. In addition, an operation point that mutually benefits the efficiency of pump and motor was identified. The pump is centrifugal. The operation point that allows maximum efficiency for the motor and pump differs, but a compromise was found.

  2. Economizing on component parts. Mechanical pumps harness the engine’s power through a pump pulley connected to the engine crank. The rotation of the crank then drives the pump, which is connected to the pulley by a shaft. Mechanical seals on the shaft prevent leaking of the cooling water. On the contrary, the electric pump which is driven directly by its motor so these seals could be eliminated. Resin protects the electric motor parts from rust.

  3. Cutting costs. The opportunity to economize on costs was exploited with the use of a cheaper print board. Although the heat resistance may be lower for the cheaper print board, the optimized efficiency of the electric pump reduces the heat generated. An aluminum enclosure was also incorporated, which acts as a heat sink, further reducing the level of heat resistance needed in the print board.

August 31, 2012 in Engines, Fuel Efficiency, Vehicle Systems | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

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