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    BioConversion Blog's C. Scott Miller discusses the publication of 'The BioTown Source Book', which offers a very accessible introduction to the many different bioconversion technologies currently driving the bioenergy sector. BioConversion Blog - April 11, 2007.

    China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp., Ltd. (COFCO) have signed a framework agreement over plans to cooperatively develop forest bioenergy resources, COFCO announced on its web site. Interfax China - April 11, 2007.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador is speeding up writing the country's biofuels law in order to take advantage of the US-Brazil cooperation agreement which identified the country as one where projects can be launched fairly quickly. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming weeks. El Porvenir - April 11, 2007.

    ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biofuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips' plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify America's energy sources. Iowa State University - April 11, 2007.

    Interstate Power and Light has decided to utilize super-critical pulverized coal boiler technology at its large (600MW) new generation facility planned for Marshalltown, Iowa. The plant is designed to co-fire biomass and has a cogeneration component. The investment tops US$1billion. PRNewswire - April 10, 2007.

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

    In what is described as a defeat for the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled [*.pdf] today that environmental officials have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. By a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change. Reuters - April 2, 2007.

    Goldman Sachs estimates that, in the absence of current trade barriers, Latin America could supply all the ethanol required in the US and Europe at a cost of $45 per barrel – just over half the cost of US-made ethanol. EuroToday - April 2, 2007.

    The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative signed a long-term purchase power agreement last week with Green Energy Team, LLC. The 20-year agreement enables KIUC to purchase power from Green Energy's proposed 6.4 megawatt biomass-to-energy facility, which will use agricultural waste to generate power. Honolulu Advertiser - April 2, 2007.

    The market trend to heavier, more powerful hybrids is eroding the fuel consumption advantage of hybrid technology, according to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia. GreenCarCongress - March 30, 2007.

    Hungarian privately-owned bio-ethanol project firm Mabio is planning to complete an €80-85 million ethanol plant in Southeast Hungary's Csabacsud by end-2008. Onet/Interfax - March 29, 2007.

    Energy and engineering group Abengoa announces it has applied for planning permission to build a bioethanol plant in north-east England with a capacity of about 400,000 tonnes a year. Reuters - March 29, 2007.

    The second European Summer School on Renewable Motor Fuels will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 29 to 31 August 2007. The goal of the event is to disseminate the knowledge generated within the EU-funded RENEW (Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains) project and present it to the European academic audience and stakeholders. Topics on the agenda include generation of synthetic gas from biomass and gas cleaning; transport fuel synthesis from synthetic gas; biofuel use in different motors; biomass potentials, supply and logistics, and technology, cost and life-cycle assessment of BtL pathways. Cordis News - March 27, 2007.

    Green Swedes want even more renewables, according to a study from Gothenburg University. Support for hydroelectricity and biofuels has increased, whereas three-quarters of people want Sweden to concentrate more on wind and solar too. Swedes still back the nuclear phase-out plans. The country is Europe's largest ethanol user. It imports 75% of the biofuel from Brazil. Sveriges Radio International - March 27, 2007.

    Fiat will launch its Brazilian-built flex-fuel Uno in South Africa later this year. The flex-fuel Uno, which can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two fuels, was displayed at the Durban Auto Show, and is set to become popular as South Africa enters the ethanol era. Automotive World - March 27, 2007.

    Siemens Power Generation (PG) is to supply two steam turbine gensets to a biomass-fired plant in Três Lagoas, 600 kilometers northwest of São Paulo. The order, valued at €22 million, was placed by the Brazilian company Pöyry Empreendimentos, part of VCP (Votorantim Celulose e Papel), one of the biggest cellulose producers in the Americas. PRDomain - March 25, 2007.

    Asia’s demand for oil will nearly double over the next 25 years and will account for 85% of the increased demand in 2007, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) officials forecast yesterday at a Bangkok-hosted energy conference. Daily Times - March 24, 2007.

    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

    The U.S. Dep't of Agriculture's Forest Service has selected 26 small businesses and community groups to receive US$6.2 million in grants from for the development of innovative uses for woody biomass. American Agriculturalist - March 21, 2007.

    Three universities, a government laboratory, and several companies are joining forces in Colorado to create what organizers hope will be a major player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products. The Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, or C2B2, combines the biofuels and biorefining expertise of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, and the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Founding corporate members include Dow Chemical, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. C&EN - March 20, 2007.

    The city of Rome has announced plans to run its public bus fleet on a fuel mix of 20 per cent biodiesel. The city council has signed an accord that would see its 2800 buses switch to the blended fuel in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. A trial of 200 buses, if successful, would see the entire fleet running on the biofuel mix by the end of 2008. Estimates put the annual emission savings at 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. CarbonPositive - March 19, 2007.

    CODON (Dutch Biotech Study Association) organises a symposium on the 'Biobased Economy' in Wageningen, Netherlands, home of one of Europe's largest agricultural universities. In a biobased economy, chemistry companies and other non-food enterprises primarily use renewable materials and biomass as their resources, instead of petroleum. The Netherlands has the ambition to have 30% of all used materials biobased, by 2030. FoodHolland - March 19, 2007.

    Energy giants BP and China National Petroleum Corp, the PRC's biggest oil producer, are among the companies that are in talks with Guangxi Xintiande Energy Co about buying a stake in the southern China ethanol producer to expand output. Xintiande Energy currently produces ethanol from cassava. ChinaDaily - March 16, 2007.

    Researchers at eTEC Business Development Ltd., a biofuels research company based in Vienna, Austria, have devised mobile facilities that successfully convert the biodiesel by-product glycerin into electricity. The facilities, according to researchers, will provide substantial economic growth for biodiesel plants while turning glycerin into productive renewable energy. Biodiesel Magazine - March 16, 2007.

    Ethanol Africa, which plans to build eight biofuel plants in the maize belt, has secured funding of €83/US$110 million (825 million Rand) for the first facility in Bothaville, its principal shareholder announced. Business Report - March 16, 2007.

    A joint venture between Energias de Portugal SGPS and Altri SGPS will be awarded licences to build five 100 MW biomass power stations in Portugal's eastern Castelo Branco region. EDP's EDP Bioelectrica unit and Altri's Celulose de Caima plan to fuel the power stations with forestry waste material. Total investment on the programme is projected at €250/US$333 million with 800 jobs being created. Forbes - March 16, 2007.

    Indian bioprocess engineering firm Praj wins €11/US$14.5 million contract for the construction of the wheat and beet based bio-ethanol plant for Biowanze SA in Belgium, a subsidiary of CropEnergies AG (a Sudzucker Group Company). The plant has an ethanol production capacity of 300,000 tons per year. IndiaPRWire - March 15, 2007.

    Shimadzu Scientific Instruments announced the availability of its new white paper, “Overview of Biofuels and the Analytical Processes Used in their Manufacture.” The paper is available for free download at the company’s website. The paper offers an overview of the rapidly expanding global biofuel market with specific focus on ethanol and biodiesel used in auto transportation. It provides context for these products within the fuel market and explains raw materials and manufacturing. Most important, the paper describes the analytical processes and equipment used for QA testing of raw materials, in-process materials, and end products. BusinessWire - March 15, 2007.

    Côte d'Ivoire's agriculture minister Amadou Gon has visited the biofuels section of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, one of the largest fairs of its kind. According to his communication office, the minister is looking into drafting a plan for the introduction of biofuels in the West African country. AllAfrica [*French] - March 13, 2007.

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward?

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) systems are receiving a lot of attention nowadays. The system offers the potential to sequester the carbon dioxide - the most dangerous greenhouse gas - from fossil fuels into geological formations, so that the use of these primary energy sources contributes less to climate change. A lot of research is going on to study different techniques and sites to store the carbon dioxide safely so that it stays locked up for decades or centuries.

At the Biopact, we follow these developments, because CCS can be applied to biofuels as well. Whereas CCS applied to fossil fuels results in slightly positive or carbon neutral energy, 'Bio-energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) systems are radically carbon negative. Scientists looked at BECS in the context of so-called 'Abrupt Climate Change' (ACC), which is basically an apocalyptic global warming scenario. In case ACC were to occur, BECS would be one of the only realistic mitigation options, because the system allows societies to reduce CO2 emissions radically while still using energy at the same time. BECS is the only carbon negative energy system in existence. But for BECS to work, CCS technologies must be reliable and commercially viable. And this is where a major problem arises.

CCS costs
The main obstacle to the commercial viability of CCS is the high cost of capturing the carbon dioxide gas. The other costs associated with integrated CCS-systems, such as geological assessments of potential storage sites, CO2 transport and injection, and monitoring and measuring stored carbon dioxide, are relatively low (see table, click to enlarge).

Several carbon capture technologies exist, only one of which stands out for being very simple, scaleable, tested and low-cost, namely CO2 capture from biogas fermenters. The Biopact will present this route, which is part of a broader concept, to the EU's public consultation on CCS.

Broadly speaking, there are two different stages at which the CO2 from fuels can be captured: either before the fuel is used in power plants (pre-combustion capture) or after burning it (post-combustion capture from flue gas).

The main problem with post-combustion capture is the low concentration of CO2 in the flue gas. Depending on which industry is concerned, this concentration can range between a few percent only to 15%. Other gases such as oxygen, water vapour or nitrogen also occur in flue gas. It would be out of the question to seek to compress them all for storage, from the standpoint of both the energy costs and the storage capacity. Separation methods are thus required so as to trap the CO2 preferentially, so that it can be compressed and make optimal use of the storage capacity of a sequestration site.

Within the post-combustion category the following CO2 capture techniques can be distinguished:
  • absorption with solvents (generally amines)
  • calcium cycle separation: quicklime-based capture that yields limestone, which is then heated, thereby releasing CO2 and producing quicklime again for recycling.
  • cryogenic separation: based on solidifying CO2 by frosting it to separate it out; the low concentration of CO2 in the flue gas makes this uneconomical
  • membrane separation: work is required on developing the membranes themselves, on their optimisation for large-scale generation conditions, and on minimising the energy required for separation
  • adsorption: the fixation of CO2 molecules on a surface. The adsorbing material (mostly zeolites) undergoes a series of pressure or temperature variations to store/release CO2 as required
  • Oxy-fuel combustion capture: not CO2 capture in the true sense of the term; the objective is to increase the CO2 fraction in the flue gas to 90% by performing combustion in the presence of pure oxygen. However, separating out the oxygen from air, performed mainly using the cryogenic principle, is both costly and energy-consuming.
The goal of pre-combustion capture techniques is to trap the carbon prior to combustion: the fuel is converted on entering the installation into synthesis gas – a mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen, through gasification, shift reaction or partial oxidation, after which the CO is separated mainly via:
  • steam reforming in the presence of water: the CO present in the mixture reacts with the water during the shift conversion stage to form CO2 and hydrogen. The CO2 is then separated from the hydrogen, which can be used to produce energy (electricity or heat) without giving off CO2
CO2 capture from biogas
All the above technologies are currently too costly to make CCS commercially viable (see table). The alternative suggested by the Biopact is significantly lower-cost and consists of pre-combustion CO2 capture from anaerobically fermented biogas:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The advantage of biogas is the fact that the fermentation of biomass results in a gas the CO2 fraction of which is much larger than that of flue gas. Depending on the feedstocks and the production process, biogas contains between 35 and 45% of CO2. The remainder is methane (CH4), with some trace gases and elements. This large CO2 fraction makes pre-combustion CO2 capture technologies commercially viable. Comparisons show that CO2 capture from biogas is between 4 and 6 times less costly than other pre- and post-combustion separation techniques.

To put it in simple terms: biogas can be purified, the CO2 stored and the resulting high quality methane used as an ultra-clean and carbon-negative biofuel. The biomethane can be used either in power plants, or in CNG-capable vehicles.

So what would the ideal system of 'biogas with carbon capture and storage' (BCS - see illustration, click to enlarge) look like? It consists of creating biogas production zones close to carbon sequestration sites (such as deep saline aquifers or depleted oil and gas fields), and preferrably in the subtropics and the tropics, where biomass yields are high.

Contrary to other CCS strategies, our system is independent of power-plants (because the CO2 capture occurs before the combustion of the methane) and thus independent of heavily urbanised or populated regions (where power plants are located). The system can be located close to the sequestration site, so that CO2 transport costs are reduced significantly too. On the other hand, the carbon-negative biomethane resulting from the process would then have to be shipped to power plants. This can be done by (existing) pipelines or by LNG tankers.

The Biopact is researching possible sites for this system - even though our expertise on this front is quite limited. The ideal-type system would look like this:

1. a sequestration site close to an existing LNG facility (possibly nearby depleted natural gas fields or oil fields where the CO2 can be stored while enhancing oil recovery)
2. dedicated energy crop plantations would be established nearby
3. the biomass - which sucks up atmospheric CO2 - is anaerobically fermented into biogas
4. the CO2 fraction is separated, transported (piped) and injected into the sequestration site (the gas field)
5. the pure biomethane (99% CH4) is liquefied at the existing LNG facility, and exported to world markets
6. as a carbon negative gas, it would fetch premium prices, provided a global market for CO2 comes into existence

Alternatively - but this obviously remains a concept that would require serious investments - we start from scratch and build a new LNG facility close to a near-shore/on-shore sequestration site where our biogas system would be located. The ultra-clean, carbon negative biomethane would then be liquefied and shipped to world markets.

Take into consideration that biogas made from dedicated energy crops in large-scale production facilities in the tropics is expected to be competitive with natural gas (if natural gas prices stay as high as they are today, there would even be a serious margin, making biogas considerably cheaper).

To fill the largest LNG tanker currently on the market - with a capacity of 250,000 tons of liquefied natural gas, equivalent to around 300 million cubic meters of natural gas - with pure biomethane, one would need between 450 and 650 million cubic meters of biogas. This amount can be obtained from around 60,000 hectares of cassava, or 40,000 hectares of sugarcane.

Comparing different 'BECS' systems
'Biogas with carbon storage' can be considered to be a BECS system that results in a biofuel that can be used in power plants as well as in automotive applications (CNG-capable vehicles, fuel cell vehicles). But overall, the carbon capture stage would be considerably lower-cost than BECS relying on solid biofuels (wood co-fired in coal plants, or in dedicated biomass power plants). Because with solid biofuels, only post-combustion CO2 capture is feasible or, alternatively, the expensive pre-combustion capture techniques based on gasification.

Similarly, an alternative clean carbon-negative automotive biofuel would be obtained from biomass-to-liquids, the CO2 of which is captured in the pre-combustion stage; biomass would be gasified, the CO from this syngas would be removed by steam reforming, after which the remaning hydrogen-rich gas is synthesised via the Fischer-Tropsch process into so-called 'synthetic biofuels'. The problem is that this pre-combustion CO2 separation is far more expensive than CO2 removal from biogas.

Finally, a word on the potential of biogas. According to a recent study by the Institut für Energetik und Umwelt, based in Leipzig, and by the Öko-Instituts Darmstadt, the gas can be produced on a very large scale. The study shows that the EU can produce 500 billion cubic meters of natural gas equivalent biogas per annum by 2020, enough to displace all imports of Russian natural gas (earlier post).

In the tropics and subtropics, production would be more cost-effective and energy efficient. By feeding biomethane produced in the South into existing LNG export hubs (such as those in Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea (planned), Brunei, Equatorial Guinea (planned), Venezuela, Bolivia (planned) or Angola (planned)), it can be shipped to LNG terminals in the North and fetch premium prices. Purification and liquefaction of biogas into renewable LNG is already a commercial reality in the US.

The system as we described it here, is only at the conceptual stage. One aspect of the carbon negative energy system, the cost-sensitive CO2 capture process, is relatively low-cost compared to other techniques associated with the use of fossil fuels or with solid biofuels. The Biopact is writing an introductory dossier on the concept, and will present it to the EU's public consultation on CCS.

More information:
On the low costs of geological assessments, see:
S. J. Friedmann, J. Dooley, H. Held, O. Edenhofer, "The low cost of geological assessment for underground CO2 storage: Policy and economic implications", [*.pdf] Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Energy & Conversion Management, February 15, 2005.

On the cost of different carbon capture techniques:
Mahasenan N, Brown DR. “Beyond the Big Picture: Characterization of CO2-laden Streams and Implications for Capture Technologies”. In: Proceedings of 7th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies. Volume 1: Peer-Reviewed Papers and Plenary Presentations, IEA Greenhouse Gas Programme, Cheltenham, UK, 2004

On CCS in general:
The IEA's CO2 Capture and Storage website, part of the IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme.
UK Carbon Capture and Storage Consortium.
IEA's Clean Coal Center: Carbon Capture and Storage (Sequestration).
EurActiv dossier on CCS.

On the EU's public consultation round on CCS:
European Commission, DG Environment: "Capturing and storing CO2 underground - Should we be concerned?" (public consultation website).

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Corn ethanol does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions - report

The Canadian federal government has invested massively in biofuels made from local crops, such as corn or rapeseed. But the effor will be of little benefit in cutting dependence on fossil fuels or reducing greenhouse emissions, suggests a study by the Canadian Library of Parliament.

The report casts doubt on one of the biggest green initiatives in the Conservative budget - a US$1.5-billion investment over seven years to promote renewable fuels such as corn-based ethanol. Ottawa has introduced a regulation requiring that Canadian gasoline consist of five per cent renewable content by 2010. It also intends to require that diesel fuel and heating oil contain two per cent renewable content by 2012.

However, a study by Frederic Forge of the library's science and technology division says regulations to promote biofuels will have "relatively minor impact" on reducing greenhouse emissions across Canada.

"In fact, if 10 per cent of the fuel used were corn-based ethanol (in other words, if the E-10 blend were used in all vehicles) Canada's greenhouse gas emissions would drop by approximately one per cent," says the report.

The findings once again show what other researchers have found before (here and here): both the energy balance and the greenhouse gas emissions balance of biofuels made from crops grown in the North, is mediocre.

As usual, we feel obliged to refer to the energy and GHG balance of ethanol produced in the South (see graph 1, click to enlarge). Brazilian sugarcane ethanol reduces CO2 emissions by 85% (low estimate) to 90% (high estimate) on a well-to-wheel (farm-to-tailpipe) basis. For corn ethanol, estimates differ, but some even suggest a negative GHG balance. Likewise, the energy balance of Brazilian ethanol is between 8 and 10, that of corn only between 1 and 1.2 (here too, some have found a negative balance) (see graph 2, click to enlarge). The picture remains largely the same with the introduction of cellulosic ethanol.

Transporting biofuels from the South to the North (in tankers), does not alter the energy and GHG balance in any significant way (earlier post). In short, if Canada really wants to help reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, it should import biofuels from the Global South instead. That is what the experts say (earlier post and here):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Canadian report also show that locally produced biofuels won't have much impact in reducing dependence on oil and gas: "Global production is still too small and the need for raw materials is still too high for biofuels to have a significant impact on the fuel market and be able to compete with fossil fuels."

It cites an article in New Scientist as concluding that Canada would have to use 36 per cent of its farmland to produce enough biofuels to replace 10 per cent of the fuels now used in transportation.

The drive to increase production of biofuels is also under way in the United States and other countries, leading to concern that global food prices could rise as farmland is diverted from food to energy production.

"Some observers believe that there is already competition between the two markets: according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the rising demand for ethanol derived from corn is the main reason for the decline in world grain stocks during the first half of 2006."

The study calls for greater focus on biodiesel, which in Canada is manufactured mainly from canola, and which brings a better payoff than ethanol in reduced emissions.

The author also underlines the potential of cellulosic ethanol, which is made of waste products like straw and wood chips, rather than from food crops. Iogen, an Ottawa-based company, is a world leader in this technology, and is currently negotiating to build its first commercial plant.

Asked about the study outside the House of Commons on Friday, Environment Minister John Baird said: "I think there's an issue between the tailpipe and the whole cycle and that's, I think, the substance of the report."

He said he is a supporter of ethanol and insisted that it cuts pollution: "If you look at the cycle base, the entire cycle, I think it does."

Baird said he is enthusiastic about cellulosic ethanol: "I'm very big on Iogen's technology. Because it doesn't just use the corn, it uses the entire stock, and it's a world leader."

The budget provides $500 million for "next generation" biofuels, and it is expected that this will be used in part to support the Iogen process.

More information:

Frederic Forge: Biofuels - An Energy, Environmental or Agricultural Policy? [*.hmtl, or *.pdf version], Science and Technology Division, Library of Parliament, Canada, 8 February 2007

Canada.com: Ethanol investments won't do much to cut greenhouse gas emissions: report - March 30, 2007.

Globe & Mail: Ottawa's biofuel plan will have 'minor impact,' study says.Increased use of renewable resources won't dramatically reduce emissions: report - March 30, 2007

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