Friday, October 12, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Now Available in 60 Hz, GE Offers Natural Gas Plant Aimed to Combine Efficiency & Adjustability

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 04:28 PM PDT

GE is now offering a 60 Hz version of its FlexEfficiency 50 combined cycle natural gas power plant for use in the United States, Japan, and the Middle East — 60 Hz is the frequency of the power that these countries use. It was originally available in 50 Hz for countries that used 50 Hz power such as China, Europe, and others.

GE Gas Turbine

Last year, GE announced the invention of this combined cycle natural gas power plant, which is capable of adjusting its power production by an impressive 50 MW (50,000 kw) per minute, and it also maintained 60% efficiency when turned down to 40% of its generation capacity.

The power plants can also start in 30 minutes.

Natural gas power plants can either be quickly adjustable and inefficient, or efficient but slow to adjust. Unfortunately, a combination of both qualities was not an option until recently.

This type of power plant is important because it can efficiently and quickly back up wind farms and solar power stations by scaling up power production when wind speeds slow down or when the weather is cloudy or night is approaching.

How Combined Cycle Natural Gas Power Plants Work

Combined cycle natural gas power stations, in general, operate using both a natural gas–burning turbine and a steam turbine. The heat generated by the natural gas turbine is used to boil water, which then produces the steam required to drive the steam turbine, effectively putting otherwise wasted heat to use to generate even more electricity without using any additional fuel.

These are by far the most efficient fossil-fueled power plants in the world.

Source: Technology Review

Kyocera Supplies Solar Powered Generators to Medical Facility in Tajikistan

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 03:09 PM PDT

Kyocera Corporation, as well as Marubeni Corporation and Marubeni Protechs Corportation, yesterday announced that they provided solar-powered generators to the Diakov and Research Institution of Obstetrics Gynecology (OB/GYN) and Perinatology in Dushanbi, which is the capital of the Republic of Tajikistan.

This is the very first solar power system that Kyocera has installed in Tajikistan, and it has the capacity to generate 160 kW (160,000 watts) of electricity. The Diakov Hospital’s system is 120 kW, and the OBG/GYN institution’s is 40 kW.

The systems are expected to generate approximately 196 MWh of electricity annually, which would offset the production of 62 tonnes of CO2 each year.

The project is being funded by the Japanese government’s ODA (Official Development Assistance) program to help augment Tajikistan’s power production and diversify its energy sources.

Another example of a Kyocera ODA is one in 1984 to provide Pakistan with a solar power plant. Since 1984, Kyocera has been involved in more than 40 ODA projects in Asia and Africa, which total 3 MW (3,000 kW) of power capacity.

Source: Kyocera

US Department of Interior Authorizes 10,000 Megawatts of Renewable Power

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 02:27 PM PDT

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Tuesday that it had approved the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project site as suitable for wind energy development, ensuring that, since President Obama announced his “all-of-the-above” strategy, over 10,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable power have been authorised on public lands.

The new project is a proposed complex that could generate up to 3,000 megawatts of power in southeastern Wyoming, producing enough energy to power nearly 1 million homes, and creating an estimated 1,000 jobs in the process.

Proposed location for the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project

"When President Obama took office, he made expanding production of American made energy a priority, including making our nation a world leader in harnessing renewable energy. Tapping the vast renewable energy resources on our nation's public lands will create jobs while supporting a clean energy future," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

"Wyoming has some of the best wind energy resources in the world, and there's no doubt that this project has the potential to be a landmark example for the nation. President Obama challenged us in his State of the Union address to authorize 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on our public lands by the end of the year – enough to meet the needs of more than 3 million homes – and today we are making good on that promise."

The Department of the Interior has authorised 33 renewable energy projects since 2009, which includes 18 utility-scale solar facilities, 7 wind farms, and 8 geothermal plants, with associated transmission corridors and infrastructure that will enable the projects to connect to established power grids.

These projects are all still in various stages of development, but upon completion, they would add up to over 10,000 megawatts of power.

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior
Image Source: Power Company of Wyoming

Siemens Talking Offshore Wind Power

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 02:22 PM PDT

Siemens has released a short video on YouTube about how offshore wind is creating what it describes as “an energy revolution” throughout Europe.

Siemens believes that not only will this trend continue in Europe, but that by the end of this decade it will extend to the U.S. Atlantic Coast as well.

Converting Gas Cars to Electric

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 02:12 PM PDT

Nathan Hutchison manages Hutchison Electrics in Albany, California. He used to work at a green car dealer in Berkeley doing repairs, but that company went under, so he started his own electric vehicle and hybrid car service. He first started working on cars when he was four years old with his dad.

Today, he has his own business converting old gas vehicles to electric motors and batteries. He also repairs vehicles. Recently, his all-electric Volkswagen Bug was on display at the Green Cars Expo in Richmond, California. Luckily, I had the chance to interview him. Below is an interview with Mr. Hutchision.

1. How long did it take you to convert your gas VW Bug to all electric?

The Company car we have now took approx 5 weeks to convert and partially restore.  I have converted a VW beetle in as little as 24 working hours.  A “conversion” from gas to electric can range from 20-30 hours to 50-150 hours, there are many different cars out there and there are many different options that our customers can choose from that determine the amount of time a conversion would take.  In addition we provide restoration services and any repairs that may be needed on the car being converted.  That said, you can imagine how many hours it may take to restore a classic car to new.

2. If a customer brings in a gasoline-powered vehicle, how long does it usually take you to convert it to electric?

Again, depends on the car and what is being done, but typical lead time is anywhere from 1.5-2 months to 3 or 4 months for the most extensive conversion and restoration.  In addition to building the car, each car is tested extensively to ensure there are no issues once delivered.

3. What kind of batteries do you use in your conversions and how long do they typically last?

We use a lithium battery in all of our conversions.  The batteries we use are some of the safest in the industry.  They have a life rating of 7-9 years before you have half of the energy or “range” than what you started with.  We can provide as little as 30-40 mile per charge in a vehicle to as much as 200-300mi per charge.

4.  How many conversions have you completed so far?

From scratch we have done 12-15 conversions, though it is not all that we do.  We offer repair on existing electric vehicles and often “take over” conversions that other people have started and or completed.  In addition we work with other companies in this industry that are developing ideas such as add-on hybrid systems to hybrids and gasoline vehicles.  We also offer service on conventional vehicles and emphasize “fuel efficient” upgrades and repairs.

5.  Purchasing a brand new EV can be very expensive, such as the Tesla sedan, which is $50,000 or more. Why do think there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in the media about converting existing cars to electric motors and battery packs?

I am unsure as to why “conversion companies” are not shown more in the media, but what I do know is that conversions and or new electric vehicles are only recently growing in practicality and affordability.  A Tesla may be more than $50,000 but a car similar from my company may cost more, again depending on the car.  If you ask me the electric vehicle industry has come a long way in the last 5 years and is accelerating at a very fast rate.

6.  Which gasoline cars are easiest to convert to electric motors?

The easiest cars to convert to electric would be VW and Porsche air cooled vehicles such as Beetles, Karman Ghia, Bus, Squareback, Fastback, Porsche 912, 911 etc from 1950s to 1975+.  Mainly because of the size and weight of the vehicle, but also because of the design and ease of installation, not to mention the initial cost of the vehicle.  Though, like we advertise, we can build you an electric car out of any car you want.  With that said, you can imagine the different prices there could be.

Amtrak Reaches Record Yearly Ridership for 9th Time in 10 Years

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 02:43 AM PDT

Amtrak has now broken its ridership record for the ninth time in the last ten years, transporting an enormous quantity of 31.2 million passengers during the twelve months before September 30, 2012.

News of this record-breaking growth is coming out right in the middle of an election year, of course, against a backdrop of debate about whether subsidized services like passenger rail should continue.

Here are the exact facts on Amtrak’s growth: “ridership grew by 3.5 percent in 2012, giving Amtrak its highest number of passenger trips since the company began operations in 1971. As the chart above shows, Amtrak ridership has grown steadily–a total of 49 percent since 2000.”

Revenue from ticket sales has also increased by about 6 percent, contributing $2 billion of a nearly $4 billion dollar budget. That brings the total revenue to almost $100 million more than was projected in the 2012 budget. The government subsidies that have been so much a part of policy debates totaled around $466 million, considerably less than the subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. They were also provided with an additional $952 million for capital expenses.

Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement: "ridership will continue to grow because of key investments made by Amtrak and our federal and state partners to improve on-time performance, reliability, capacity and train speeds."

One of those investments is purchasing new trains. The new Acela trains will travel nearly 160 miles per hour at top speed. Improvements have already begun to show from the investments: “82 percent of trains were on time in 2012, up a bit from last year, which is about on par with airline industry performance compiled by FlightStat.”


A lot of the growth that Amtrak has been seeing has been due to attracting customers who would have previously taken an airplane.

After the genesis of the TSA, air travel has become a hassle that many people would rather avoid if possible. Train travel has a significant time advantage over short haul flights, primarily because of the comparatively streamlined security.

“The newly released numbers show the Northeast Corridor is still the anchor route for Amtrak with more than a third of all riders (11.4 million) traveling between Boston and Washington, D.C. Amtrak won't release new state-by-state and line-by-line numbers until next week, but the 361 miles of track along the Northeast Corridor are likely to continue to bring in more than half of all ticket revenue for Amtrak, as it did last year according to the 2011 annual report. According to projections (see PDF, last page of Appendix), only the NEC and Kansas City – St. Louis lines earn a profit on a per passenger basis. When final numbers are in, we'll find out if this new ridership and ticket revenue peak brings any other lines into break even territory.”

Amtrak was originally created specifically to provide passenger rail service that private train companies were unwilling to provide, because of a lack of profitability.

Source: Planetizen
Image Credits: Amtrak; Amtrak via Wikimedia Commons

Scotland Starts Fund to Increase Private Green Investment

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 02:30 AM PDT


Wind Turbines via ShutterStock from Lukas Hejtman

Scotland's government has just announced the start of a new multi-million-pound fund that will target private renewable energy investments.

Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, speaking at the Scottish Low Carbon Investment conference, said the Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF) will be another channel for investors who are looking to use other capital besides the UK Green Investment bank.

According to the article, the new £103 million fund will specifically target advanced projects that have a gap in funding. These include: renewable heat technologies and marine energy. Salmond had this to say also about the new fund:

“The planned advisory group will provide expert advice for people who have good ideas and projects to put to the Green Investment Bank, but who need a helping hand to make them ready for investment.

“The group will help those people to refine and pitch their proposals – by doing so, it should enable the Green Investment Bank to make decisions quickly, and to start investing in projects which will deliver real benefits.”

Source: Business Green

Commerce Rules on China Silicon PV Anti-dumping, Anti-subsidy Duties; Leaves Loophole Open

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 02:24 AM PDT

The Commerce Dept. Oct. 10 lowered some anti-dumping duties and significantly increased anti-subsidy duties on imports of Chinese solar silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells. In its final determination regarding SolarWorld USA–CASM’s (Coalition of American Solar Manufacturing) WTO unfair trade petitions, Commerce left unchanged the scope of its final determination. That, according to proponents and supporters of the petitions — including a group of US Congress members — leaves open a loophole that enables Chinese PV cell manufacturers to easily evade the duties.

Commerce set anti-dumping duties of 31.73% on imports of solar PV cells and panels from Suntech, 18.32% on those of Trina Solar, 25.96% on those from other companies that had requested but not received individual duty determinations, and 249.96% from all other Chinese producers, including those controlled by the Chinese government, CASM noted in a press release. The anti-dumping duties are in-line with those of Commercie’s preliminary determinations, which were imposed in late May: 31.14%, 31.22%, 31.18%, and 249.96%, respectively.

In contrast, the Commerce WTO litigation panel raised anti-subsidy duties substantially. Anti-subsidy duty rates of 14.78% were imposed for imports from Suntech, 15.97% on Trina Solar imports, and 15.24% for all other Chinese manufacturers. These are significantly higher than Commerce’s preliminary anti-subsidy duties announced in March of 2.9% for Suntech, 4.73% for Trina, and 3.59% for all other Chinese producers.


A Victory for US Manufacturers, though Loophole Remains

Critically, Commerce’s final determinations apply to imports of PV cells made by Chinese manufacturers in China only. Their limited scope leaves a large loophole that Chinese manufacturers are already exploiting, CASM states.

For instance, solar PV cells manufactured by government-subsidized Chinese manufacturers in China but assembled into PV modules and solar panels in third countries are exempt from duties. Similarly, PV cells made by manufacturers in third countries and assembled into solar panels in China are also exempt from duties.

"By leaving this 'loophole' as defined by Members of Congress in its enforcement decision, Commerce continues to expose U.S. manufacturers to Chinese unfair trade practices," said SolarWorld Industries America’s president Gordon Brinser. "This will undercut the positive impact of Commerce's duties. Assuming the International Trade Commission rules in our favor next month, we plan to ask the Commerce Department and Customs and Border Protection to address the circumvention issue through strict enforcement actions."

The limited scope of Commerce’s ruling has prompted 27 members of Congress to speak out publicly in favor of extending the scope of the import duties. They’ve sent the Commerce WTO panel a letter pointing out the loophole and its negative effects, and requesting that they close the loophole by broadening the scope of the duties.

"As 27 Members of Congress, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Edward Markey and many others, have pointed out in recent weeks, the loophole will make it difficult to enforce the Commerce decision. We will work with them to pursue remedies to close the loophole. Moreover, to date, we are unaware of a single member of Congress who urged the President to leave the loophole in place," Brinser continued.

Added Steve Ostrenga, CEO of Milwaukee solar PV manufacturer Helios Solar Works USA, a founding member of CASM: "We remain confident that American manufacturers can compete with China on an equal footing. Helios, and the other manufacturing members of CASM, is in this battle to win it. Assuming an adequate response from the Obama administration on enforcement, we have some hope that there will continue to be a viable solar manufacturing base in the United States."

"On behalf of the more than 18,000 workers who belong to the coalition, I want to thank the investigators at the Commerce Department for their hard work on this politically charged case and, especially, Sen. Wyden for taking up the cause of American solar manufacturing," Brinser added.

"Without Sen. Wyden's efforts, the industry would have never gotten as far as we have. Today's decision is one part of a solution that will help American solar manufacturers recover from China's unfair trade practices."

Chinese solar energy industry participants and government authorities have retaliated, launching WTO unfair trade investigations into imports of silicon and PV cell manufacturing equipment from US manufacturers, as well as other US imports.

Defusing Trade Tensions

The US Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) is one among several other groups looking to defuse international solar energy trade tensions. "As we near the end of these investigations, it's not too soon to take stock of what has been achieved, consider whether opportunities were missed, and, most importantly, start thinking about how to move forward," SEIA president Rhone Resch stated in a press release.

"While today's decision rightly shows that the U.S. will protect its rights in the global trading system, we're also learning that trade litigation alone is not enough to solve the complex challenges that exist between the U.S. and China. What is immediately clear is that the future must begin with diplomacy. Prior to these trade cases, the U.S. and Chinese solar industries enjoyed a strong, productive working relationship. For both sides to succeed going forward, we must return to our collaborative roots at both the industry and government levels.

"Indeed, this collaborative spirit is alive and well elsewhere in the global renewable energy industry. This week, SEIA, other trade groups, and multinational companies joined forces to call for mutually-beneficial, long-term trade solutions through the World Economic Forum's Green Growth Action Alliance.”

The WTO anti-subsidy and anti-dumping process will come to a close on Nov. 7 when the International Trade Commission (ITC) will decided whether the international trade practices followed by the Chinese government and silicon PV manufacturers are harming US industry. The ITC WTO panel voted affirmatively 6-0 in its preliminary determination last December. Creater Buys Ford C-Max Energi

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 02:15 AM PDT

Breaking up isn’t easy. That’s what creator Lyle Dennis realized when he couldn’t fit his wife and three kids into his Chevy Volt.

The Chevy Volt lover recently decided he needed an electric hybrid that could ferry all five members of his family, and the Volt just wasn’t meeting that critical need. So, after 14,000 miles and one leading enthusiasts’ website later, Dennis is courting the Ford C-Max Energi.

At a lower price than the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, and 5 seats, the C-Max Energi is hitting all the right buttons for Dennis.

Of course, Dennis still has glowing reviews for the Volt, but it goes to show how important a seat for your third kid (if you have 3 kids) can be.

Source: Autoblog Green
Image: Ford C-Max Energi courtesy of Ford

New Method Of Fabricating Carbon Nanotubes Is As Easy As Writing With A Pencil

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 12:49 AM PDT

Carbon nanotubes are extremely effective as a means to detect potentially dangerous gases that may be present in the air. The previous methods used to make these carbon nanotube sensors have typically involved hazardous materials, though, and none of them could really be scaled up to a production level.

Researchers from MIT have now solved these problems, designing a simple and cheap way to fabricate these sensors. The answer? Simply writing with a ‘lead’ made of compressed carbon nanotubes.


The newly designed lead can be used in any regular mechanical pencil. By writing with it, you inscribe sensors on any paper surface.

This new sensor can detect extremely small quantities of ammonia gas, a major industrial hazard, in the air.

According to the lead researcher, Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry, the sensors are easily adaptable, potentially being used to detect nearly any kind of gas.

“The beauty of this is we can start doing all sorts of chemically specific functionalized materials,” Swager says. “We think we can make sensors for almost anything that’s volatile.”

One significant advantage of this new fabrication process is how inexpensive it is. It’s considerably cheaper than other methods. The extreme stability of the “lead” is the other primary advantage. “You can’t imagine a more stable formulation. The molecules are immobilized,” says Swager.

The new research is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Image Credits: Jan Schnorr; Courtesy of Mark Hersam, Northwestern University

Black Silicon Solar Cells Get Boost in Efficiency, Efficiency Doubled

Posted: 11 Oct 2012 12:30 AM PDT

While conventional solar cells can absorb a good portion of the Sun’s light, they completely miss the boat on getting anything from the infrared spectrum. But black silicon solar cells are actually designed exactly for this. A group of researchers from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute in Germany have recently succeeded in doubling solar cell efficiency of black silicon solar cells!

Infrared radiation makes up about 25% of the solar spectrum. Black silicon can absorb almost all of this, and then turn it into electricity. So, there’s quite a bit of potential to improve the efficiency of solar panels by using black silicon.

What the heck is black silicon, you ask? ”Black silicon is obtained by irradiating conventional silicon under sulfur atmosphere with a femtosecond laser,” explains Dr. Stefan Kontermann, group manager of the Fraunhofer Project Group Fiber optic sensor systems at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut.”The surface is roughened, installed individual sulfur atoms in the silicon lattice and the material is black.” (Translations from German courtesy of Google Translate.)

So, how did the researchers boost black silicon solar cell efficiency? (Warning: science speak coming.) “We achieved this by having changed the shape of the laser pulse, with which we irradiate the silicon,” says Kontermann.

Here’s more from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft press release: “This allowed the scientists to solve a problem of the black silicon: While the infrared light hitting normal silicon does not have enough energy to raise the electrons in the ‘conduction band’ and thus bring in the current cycle, ie convert it into electricity, the sulfur added to the black silicon creates a sort  of intermediate step here.”

However, this intermediate step also allows electrons to jump the wrong way, resulting in lost electricity. But the researchers’ modification of the laser pulse solves this problem a bit by guiding more electrons in the right direction.

Where to go next?

The researchers’ next step is to evaluate how different shapes of laser pulses affect energy levels of the sulphur. And, eventually, the goal to create a system of algorithms that will be able to automatically identify how the laser pulse should be modified in order to achieve maximum efficiency.

The end goal is, of course, to merge the black silicon solar cells the researchers develop with existing commercial technology in order to bring a leading solar power product to market. According to the researchers, their intention is to add black silicon solar cells to conventional solar cells, creating a tendem solar cell, and thus boosting overall solar cell efficiency by about 1%.

“Furthermore, the scientists are planning a spin-off: In this company they want to market the laser system for manufacturers to expand their existing solar cell lines. They would then be able to produce the black silicon itself and build it into the cells.”

Yeah, this is all a bit over my head, but sounds interesting, and useful. Let’s hope so!

And, apparently, the research is rather highly esteemed, as this project has won an award from the “365 Places in the Land of Ideas” competition. An award ceremony is being held tomorrow (or later today for some of you), October 11, in Goslar.

Reposted from Solar Love! with full permission.

Carbon Emissions Traceable Back To Individual Buildings And Streets With New Hestia Software System

Posted: 10 Oct 2012 11:12 PM PDT

Seeing how much carbon is emitted from specific buildings and streets is now possible because of a new software system called Hestia. The new system was developed to estimate the greenhouse gases being emitted from specific areas of an entire urban landscapes.


Hestia is the creation of researchers from Arizona Stare University, who wanted to make it possible to quantify carbon dioxide emissions at a much broader level than was allowed by previous technology.

The software system is the combination of enormous public databases filled by ‘data-mining’, traffic simulations, and building-by-building energy-consumption modeling. The high-resolution maps created by Hestia make it clear exactly where CO2 emissions are coming from in an urban landscape, allowing policymakers to appropiately make decisions.

“Cities have had little information with which to guide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — and you can’t reduce what you can’t measure,” said Kevin Gurney, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, and senior scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability. “With Hestia, we can provide cities with a complete, three-dimensional picture of where, when and how carbon dioxide emissions are occurring.”

The data used was gathered from a variety of sources: air pollution reports for local areas, traffic counts, energy usage reports, and tax assessor parcel information. It was then ingeniously combined within a modeling system to quantify carbon emissions at the detailed level of specific buildings and streets.

“So far, scientists have applied Hestia to the city of Indianapolis, and work is ongoing for the cities of Los Angeles and Phoenix. They hope to ultimately map the CO2 emissions in all major cities across the United States, which accounts for nearly one-quarter of all global CO2 emissions. The Hestia research team believes this type of detailed emissions information will help determine what we as a society can do locally and globally about climate change.”

“These results may also help overcome current barriers to the United States joining an international climate change treaty,” agreed Gurney, Hestia’s lead scientist. “Many countries are unwilling to sign a treaty when greenhouse gas emission reductions cannot be independently verified.”

The unprecendented detail and accuracy that Hestia gives should allow policy makers to easily identify the most efficient places to invest in clean energy and carbon reductions, the researchers think.

“Leading in sustainability is not easy; however, as mayor, I am committed to doing so,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said. “Undoubtedly, Hestia will be a good tool to help us make more informed decisions as leaders in Phoenix and the Valley around issues of air quality, health and a sustainable future.”

“Hestia offers practical information we can use to identify the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and track progress over time,” Gurney said. “Scientists have spent decades describing the seriousness of climate change. Now, we are offering practical information to help do something about it.”

Here’s a final note from Arizona State University on the broader work being done in this arena: “Hestia is part of a larger effort that combines information about emissions with ground and satellite-based measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. It is now part of the INFLUX experiment in Indianapolis and is expected to complement NASA’s planned December 2013 launch of the Orbital Carbon Observatory satellite, which will measure the concentration of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere.”

Hestia is outlined in great detail in an article published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Source: Arizona State University
Image Credits: Bedrich Benes and Michel Abdul-Massih

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