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    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

    Timber products company China Grand Forestry Resources Group announced that it would acquire Yunnan Shenyu New Energy, a biofuels research group, for €560/$822 million. Yunnan Shenyu New Energy has developed an entire industrial biofuel production chain, from a fully active energy crop seedling nursery to a biorefinery. Cleantech - November 16, 2007.

    Northern European countries launch the Nordic Bioenergy Project - "Opportunities and consequences of an expanding bio energy market in the Nordic countries" - with the aim to help coordinate bioenergy activities in the Nordic countries and improve the visibility of existing and future Nordic solutions in the complex field of bioenergy, energy security, competing uses of resources and land, regional development and environmental impacts. A wealth of data, analyses and cases will be presented on a new website - Nordic Energy - along with announcements of workshops during the duration of project. Nordic Energy - November 14, 2007.

    Global Partners has announced that it is planning to increase its refined products and biofuels storage capacity in Providence, Rhode Island by 474,000 barrels. The partnership has entered into agreements with New England Petroleum Terminal, at a deepwater marine terminal located at the Port of Providence. PRInside - November 14, 2007.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Scientists propose new geoengineering option: increasing ocean's alkalinity to soak up more carbon dioxide

Researchers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are proposing a new method for reducing global warming that involves building a series of water desalination plants that remove hydrochloric acid (HCl) from the ocean and neutralize it through a reaction with silicate rocks. This removal would enhance the ability of the ocean to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. About 100 such plants - which essentially use the ocean as a giant carbon dioxide collector - could cause a 15 percent reduction in emissions over many years, they say. About 700 plants could offset all CO2 emissions. The technique could be deployed in case the dark scenario of 'abrupt climate change' were to be upon us.

The new idea is interesting, but competes with options that are far more cost-effective and energy efficient today, the researchers say, such as capturing carbon dioxide from large point sources (coal plants). A less costly and more efficient option still, is the production of carbon-negative biofuels and negative emissons via biomass with carbon-storage. However, given the threat of 'abrupt' and 'catastrophic' climate change, all possibilities must be looked at, even those that are not strictly cost-effective or efficient. The scientists' study is scheduled to appear in the Dec. 15 issue of ACS Environmental Science & Technology but is available as an ASAP open access article.

Scientists believe that excessive build-up of carbon dioxide in the air contributes to global warming. In addition to cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels, researchers have focused on new technologies that remove the gas directly from the atmosphere.

Several of these geoengineering methods rely on natural processes that are emulated and strengthened in an artificial way. Some of these ideas are controversial and highly risky. An example would be the proposal to seed the oceans with iron, so that algae blooms are generated which sequester CO2. The idea has been rejected by scientists, environmentalists and international maritime organisations (previous post; for other risky proposals, see here and here). A safer geoengineering idea is to build 'artificial trees' which capture CO2 from the air by solvent regeneration cycles, to produce a pure stream of CO2 which can then be stored in geological formations. However, the process is very energy intensive (previous post).

Last but not least, a very natural, efficient and cost-effective geoengineering option consists of utilizing real trees to let them act as machines that clean up the atmosphere. The biomass stores CO2. If this biomass is then used for the production of fuels and energy, while the carbon is captured before, during or after the transformation, and thereafter stored underground, the fuels and energy become carbon-negative. These so-called 'bioenergy with carbon storage' (BECS) or negative emissions systems can be implemented safely and offer a cost-effective CO2 removal option because the energy obtained from these systems replaces fossil fuels while at the same time taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Moreover, the energy required to capture and store the CO2 is generated by the system itself. Renewables like wind and solar, or nuclear power, are all 'carbon-neutral' at best because they do not add new emissions to the atmosphere. BECS systems go much further and actually take historic emissions out of it. Biopact readers are aware of the growing interest in these bio-based negative emissions energy concepts.

Despite the existence of several feasible options, researchers keep searching for alternative geoengineering methods to offset carbon dioxide, because, according to the latest IPCC synthesis, climate change is more serious than expected and is now said likely to result in 'abrupt' and 'irreversible' changes (previous post). To avert catastrophic climate change, all options must be considered, including less efficient techniques than can be deployed in a decentralised manner and thus contribute to a planetary effort.

Boosting ocean's CO2 uptake
In their new study, Kurt Zenz House and colleagues propose building hundreds of special water treatment facilities worldwide, in remote locations, that would remove hydrochloric acid from the ocean by electrolysis and neutralize the acid through reactions with silicate minerals or rocks (schematic, click to enlarge).

The reaction increases the alkalinity of the ocean and its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The process is similar to the natural weathering reactions that occur among silicate rocks but works at a much faster rate, the researchers say:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

A range of efficiency scenarios indicates that the process should require 100–400 kJ of work per mol of CO2 captured and stored for relevant timescales. This means the process is energy intensive. The researchers suggest to utilize power from 'stranded energy sources' too remote to be useful for the direct needs of population centers.

But herein lies a problem. If these 'stranded energy sources' are fossil fuels, the energy required to desalinate the water may contribute to the release of more carbon dioxide than the method sequesters. The work input required for the overall process is expected to be between 1.5 and 3.5 times higher per unit of CO2 than the work required for postcombustion capture and geologic storage (CCS) of CO2 from a modern coal-fired power plant. BECS and carbon-negative bioenergy production is more cost-effective still, because it requires similar amounts of energy to capture and store CO2 compared to coal plants with CCS, while reducing atmospheric CO2 and resulting in net negative emissions (as opposed to merely reducing the amount of new emissions entering the atmosphere, as is the case in coal + CCS) (For a comparison of costs at different carbon prices, see: Christian Azar, Kristian Lindgren, Eric Larson and Kenneth Möllersten, "Carbon Capture and Storage From Fossil Fuels and Biomass – Costs and Potential Role in Stabilizing the Atmosphere", Climatic Change, Volume 74, Numbers 1-3 / January, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s10584-005-3484-7).

The new geoengineering technique will not be able to compete with either (coal + CC or biomass + CCS) because it is too energy intensive and risks relying on fossil fuels for its energy requirements. However, if low or zero-carbon renewables like wind, geothermal or hydropower were to be coupled to the system, it could become greener though (graph, click to enlarge).

Net CO2 sequestered (t) as a function of the carbon intensity of input fuel source for the process depicted using standard Icelandic basalt (BIR-1) to neutralize the HCl. The three lines correspond to different efficiency scenarios. The optimistic scenario assumes 10 molar NaCl solution with a 1-step electrochemical process at 60% efficiency for steps 1 and 2 and 15% productive heat recovery from step 3. The likely scenario assumes 10 molar NaCl solution, a 70% efficient electrolysis, a 70% efficient HCl fuel cell, and zero heat recovery from step 3. Finally, the pessimistic scenario assumes 0.6 molar NaCl, 50% efficiency for the electrolysis, 50% efficiency for the HCl fuel cell, and zero heat recovery. Also, this figure assumes the time scale of anthropogenic climate change is similar to the time scale for the surface ocean to remove excess alkalinity. The right-hand vertical axis is required work per net mole of CO2 sequestered.

However, an advantage of the method of electrolyzing seawater to enhance ocean CO2 uptake is that it can be performed in geographic regions with an abundance of zero and low carbon power sources. For example, stranded geothermal energy from active volcanic regions is a relatively inexpensive and carbon-free power source. Therefore, volcanic islands with large geothermal resources and large basalt deposits might be ideal locations. Wind turbines—whose general deployment is partially limited by intermittency of supply—are another interesting carbon-free power option because the process can be designed to operate only when an excess of wind power exists. Alternatively, the process could be powered by gas-turbines in oil-producing regions where natural gas is flared because the infrastructure required for long-distance transport is not available.

Research into actively capturing CO2 from the air by solvent regeneration cycles is ongoing (see the discussion of the 'artificial tree method'). The new method - enhancing ocean uptake of CO2 via seawater electrolysis - has some benefits over the solvent regeneration proposals. The goal of the solvent regeneration processes is to separate CO2(g) from air and produce a near pure stream of CO2(g) for compression to ~200 atm, transportation to a storage site, and injection into a geologic reservoir. In contrast, the CO2 in the process discussed by the scientists is chemically altered to a more stable state and permanently stored in the ocean. Hence it would not be necessary to locate and fully characterize a multitude of suitable geologic storage depositories for the captured CO2.

This is clearly an advantage over carbon sequestration from existing point sources such as coal plants. However, bio-energy with carbon storage systems can be decentralised, because biomass can be planted and planned at a selected site, close to geological storage depositories (unlike coal and fossil fuels, which are 'discovered' and remain where they are found, in a fixed place).

Technical and cost barriers
The electrolysis and HCl removal process process must overcome several technical hurdles before it can offset an appreciable quantity of CO2 emissions. The magnitude of the CO2 problem is daunting, and offsetting even 15% of global emissions by electrolysis of seawater would be a serious task. To offset 15% of annual carbon emissions (3.7 Gt CO2 or 1 Gt of carbon), 1014 moles of HCl would have to be removed from the ocean and neutralized per year. Seawater would have to be separated into acid and base at a global volumetric flow rate of ~6000 m3/s. Large sewage treatment facilities have a capacity of 60 m3/s. Thus, capturing and storing 3.7 Gt of CO2 annually by the process would require around 100 plants with a volumetric flow capacity similar to that of large sewage treatment facilities.

If the process were to be employed with artificial brine from mined halite deposits, then the volumetric flow rate requirements would be reduced by an order of magnitude. The chloralkali industry would have to grow for 50 years by 3.75% per year over and above the normal consumption growth from a base of 43 million t of Cl2 production in 2003. Chemical weathering would increase from 0.4 to 1.4 Gt of C per year over this same period. With 1020 moles of mineral NaCl in continental basins, there is a sufficient resource of mineral NaCl to offset many centuries of anthropogenic CO2 emissions using the standard Chloralkali process coupled with an HCl fuel cell and silicate rock dissolution.

Economical electrolysis of seawater is another technological challenge. The current cost of removing multivalent cations before running the Chloralkali process is high. Additionally, ohmic losses in seawater would need to be reduced, e.g., by concentrating through evaporation, boiling, or dissolution of mineral halite.

One potential undesirable consequence of employing this process directly with seawater would be the production of halogenated organics as a byproduct of the electrochemical reactions on seawater. During the electrolysis, some dissolved organic carbon (DOC) can be expected to be halogenated and some of this could be in the form of volatile stratospheric ozone-destroying compounds such as CH3Br3 and CH3Cl3. Even when the process employs artificial brine, there is evidence for generation of chlorinated organics from chloralkali plants due to leakage. Present estimates do not list the chloralkali process as a major contributor to the atmospheric chloroform flux.

Seawater electrolysis could significantly add to this contribution. The use of more concentrated NaCl solutions for electrolysis would reduce these emissions by limiting the availability of DOC. In any case, it will be important to quantify this unintended flux of bromine and chlorine to the atmosphere before any large scale implementation of this process proceeds, the researchers say.
Technologies currently exist that can offset or eliminate CO2 emissions from large point sources more cost-effectively than the process described here. In time, however, the most cost-effective CO2 mitigation schemes are likely to be fully utilized. If anthropogenic climate change is expected to remain a serious threat despite the fullest practical deployment of those schemes, then the process we discuss could provide the additional CO2 mitigation necessary to avoid further damage from climate change. If a technology based on this process is to be ready when and if needed, substantial laboratory and field research is needed to better understand the process’s effect on biogeochemical cycles and other unintended consequences; to develop efficient and robust large-scale hydrogen–chlorine fuel cells; and to develop processes to more efficiently separate seawater into acid and base with large throughput.

Current estimates indicate that running the process is unlikely to be commercially viable in the near future. It is plausible, however, that the marginal cost for CO2 reduction will become high enough to make the process discussed here economically competitive. It is also worth considering the possibility that abrupt climate change will require a sudden and large-scale effort at CO2 mitigation. Under such a scenario, wide-scale deployment could be considered along with other geoengineering options to help avoid catastrophic climate change.
A variety of technologies will be used in this century to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. The process described by the scientists enhances the solubility of CO2 in the ocean by, in essence, electrochemically accelerating the natural chemical weathering reaction. The three key benefits of the process are the permanency guaranteed by the storage of CO2 in the ocean without acidification, the process’ capability to offset the CO2 emissions from any source including mobile point sources, and its capability to be performed in remote regions using stranded energy. Deployment of the process will be limited by any damage to local marine biota caused by local pH changes and rock dissolution products.

More efficient and cost-effective geoengineering options - such as BECS and negative emissions fuels and energy from biomass - will be implemented earlier than the new proposal. The bio-based methods were developed specifically in the context of the doom scenario of 'abrupt climate change'. However, if such a scenario really unfolds, even the more inefficient geoengineering ideas could find an opportunity for deployment.


Kurt Zenz House,Christopher H. House, Daniel P. Schrag, and Michael J. Aziz, "Electrochemical Acceleration of Chemical Weathering as an Energetically Feasible Approach to Mitigating Anthropogenic Climate Change", Environ. Sci. Technol., ASAP Article, November 7, 2007, DOI: 10.1021/es0701816

Biopact: IPCC to warn of 'abrupt' climate change: emergency case for carbon-negative biofuels kicks in - November 16, 2007

Biopact: Scientists propose artificial trees to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere - but the real thing could be smarter - October 04, 2007

Biopact: International maritime body rejects risky ocean geoengineering - November 09, 2007

Biopact: Simulation shows geoengineering is very risky - June 05, 2007


Anonymous said...

I take it that such a process is only seen as a fall back... as the rest of the world are looking at reducing carbon output...

11:13 PM  
Biopact team said...

Yep, the researchers say it's an option that would only be feasible if we face catastrophic climate change and need to act quickly and with everything we've got.

But mind you, the IPCC recently said we may in fact already be on the brink of this dreadful and feared 'abrupt climate change' (ACC) scenario.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous said...

and what would the total alk increase be to the ocean? a .5dkh increase and corals will not respond nicely. for the most part they have not experience any fluctuation in alkalinity.

it would also slightly change the CNP ratio, no?


7:31 PM  

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