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Posts Tagged ‘Car Charging Network’

DAN NEIL, The Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2009

6a00d8341c630a53ef011572539daa970b-320wiIn person, Carlos Ghosn, CEO and all-around-savior of Renault-Nissan, does not strike anyone as an Earth-hugging counterculture type – the man’s shoe collection is probably worth more than a Brentwood mansion.  You cannot find a bigger arch-capitalist anywhere. So it must be said, Ghosn’s embrace of electric-vehicle technology means something: If EV’s weren’t on the threshold of being practical and profitable, if there weren’t a powerful business case, you have to assume Ghosn wouldn’t go near them.

Instead, Ghosn has thrown his company into a full-on EV mobilization. This first results of that effort debuted August 2, 2009, when Nissan unveiled the LEAF, a five-seat compact, all-electric hatchback with lithium-ion batteries (24 kWh energy storage and max output of 90kW), giving the car a top speed of 90 mph and nominal range of 100 miles – a magic number, Nissan figures, in Americans’ driving psychology. The car’s electric motor generates 80 kW (107 horsepower). Depending on how you define your terms, the LEAF will be the first mass-market EV sold in the U.S. since the 1920s.

The car will be produced in Japan and at Nissan’s facility in Smyrna, Tennessee.

The LEAF will also feature IT connectivity, so that, for instance, drivers can use mobile phones to reset charging or even turn on the air-conditioning. The IT function will also help Nissan monitor the health and wellbeing of it its early fleet of EV’s. Recharging will take less than a half-hour (to 80% charge) using a high-capacity charger, Nissan says, and about eight hours using a home charger running at 200 Volts. Nissan is working with a half-dozen municipalities and other agencies around the country to develop the quick-charge infrastructure.

With the Volt, Mitsubishi’s IMiev and Nissan’s LEAF coming onto the U.S. market in the next 18 months, the infrastructure issue will begin to dominate the EV debate. Simply put, the cars will become less of a technical hurdle than places to plug them in.

As for the LEAF, the biggest unknown yet is cost. Nissan officials have quietly hinted at a price less than $30,000 retail (that’s before any tax credits), the goal being to make the EV a no-cost option. That would be the LEAF’s greatest trick.

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ALAN OHNSMAN and MAKIKO KITAMURA, Bloomberg, August 12, 2009

honda-clarityHonda Motor Co. is backing hydrogen power for the cars of the future, a stance at odds with the Obama administration’s decision to drop automotive fuel-cell technology in favor of battery-run vehicles.

“Fuel-cell cars will become necessary,” said Takashi Moriya, head of Tokyo-based Honda’s group developing the technology. “We’re positioning it as the ultimate zero-emission car.”

Honda, the only carmaker leasing fuel-cell autos to individuals, opened a production line last year in Tochigi prefecture to make 200 FCX Clarity sedans. The Energy Department sought to eliminate hydrogen-station funding and instead lend $1.6 billion to Nissan Motor Co. and $465 million to Tesla Motors Inc. to build electric cars, and give $2.4 billion in grants to lithium-ion battery makers.

“Honda has a propensity to think very long term,” said Ed Kim, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, California. “It’s also part of the company culture that if they’ve made a decision they think is correct, they’ll really stick with it.”

Honda isn’t alone. Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG, General Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. say hydrogen, the universe’s most abundant element, is among the few options to replace oil as a low-carbon transportation fuel.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in May his department would “be moving away” from hydrogen as it’s unlikely the U.S. can convert to the fuel even after 20 years. Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn predicts battery cars may grab 10% of global auto sales by 2020. Honda hasn’t announced plans for a battery-electric car.

Fuel Costs

Hydrogen, made mainly for industrial use from natural gas, costs about $5 to $10 per kilogram for vehicles in California, more than double an equivalent amount of gasoline. Fuel-cell cars also have at least double the efficiency of gasoline models, with Clarity averaging 60 miles per kilogram.

The Energy Department estimates future prices for hydrogen will fall to $2 to $3 a kilogram, Toyota said on Aug. 6.

The fuel can also be made from solar and wind power and even human waste.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said Aug. 5 his company plans consumer sales of fuel-cell cars within six years. Toyota, like Honda, is making “exponential progress” with the technology, Justin Ward, manager of Toyota’s U.S. advanced powertrain program, said in an interview.

Battery cars are further along in the market. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. started selling the i-MiEV last month. Tesla sells the $109,000 Roadster and Nissan unveiled its electric Leaf this month, with sales to start in Japan and the U.S. next year.

Fueling Time

Honda says hydrogen vehicles match the refueling style drivers are used to: filling up in minutes at a service station. Nissan’s Leaf recharges fully in 30 minutes with a fast-charger, or up to 16 hours on a household outlet, said Tetsuro Sasaki, senior manager of Nissan’s battery test group.

A budget crisis slowed plans for more hydrogen stations in California, home to the biggest fleet of cars using the fuel. At the federal level, Chu sought $333.3 million in May for battery and advanced gasoline autos in the 2010 budget, up 22%. Hydrogen funds were cut 60% to $68 million, slashing money that would have gone to transportation projects.

The Clarity is available in the U.S. only in Los Angeles, where drivers can use as many as 16 hydrogen stations. The 5-passenger car has a top speed of 100 miles an hour and goes 240 miles (386 kilometers), more than double the 100-mile range of Nissan’s compact electric car. Through July, Honda leased cars to 10 drivers for $600 a month.

Filling Stations

The need for a network of hydrogen filling stations is a problem.

“We cannot do infrastructure alone,” said Moriya. “We’ve been developing the cars on our own without government support.”

The Senate and House voted in July to restore the funds. President Barack Obama must approve the final budget.

Honda and Toyota will have to reduce production costs to win over consumers. Fuel cells need platinum — a precious metal that costs more than $1,200 an ounce — and current durability is half that of gasoline engines, according to Moriya.

Honda plans to offer hydrogen-fueled cars at prices comparable to midsize gasoline autos by 2020, down from a company estimate that Clarity’s 2005 hand-built predecessor cost about $1 million. Moriya wouldn’t discuss the Clarity’s price.

Expensive Platinum

Honda engineers in Tochigi are trying to trim costs. For 13 months, technicians have worked in a semiconductor-style clean- room, coating rolls of plastic film for fuel-cell membranes. Nearby, a press stamps stainless-steel plates that will grip the material. Hundreds of the cells are then sealed in a metal case, forming the fuel-cell stack.

Honda’s hydrogen push has been undermined by plunging sales in the U.S., its main market. Last quarter, profit at Japan’s second-largest carmaker fell 96% to 7.5 billion yen ($79 million). Its research budget is 515 billion yen this fiscal year, down 8.5%. Funds for fuel cells were cut and some spending shifted to other “priorities,” Moriya said, without elaborating.

Honda probably spends “a few tens of billions of yen” a year on fuel cells, said analyst Mamoru Kato at Tokai Tokyo Research Center in Nagoya.

“Maybe, just maybe, fuel cells will be the future,” said Edwin Merner, who helps manage about $3 billion at Atlantis Investment Research in Tokyo. “And if you’re not in there, then you have a big disadvantage.”

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KIMBERLY S. JOHNSON, Huffington Post, August 11, 2009

GM Chevy Volt MileageGeneral Motors said Tuesday its Chevrolet Volt electric car could get 230 mpg in city driving, making it the first American vehicle to achieve triple-digit fuel economy if that figure is confirmed by federal regulators.

But when the four-door family sedan hits showrooms late next year, its efficiency will come with a steep sticker price: $40,000.

Still, the Volt’s fuel efficiency in the city would be four times more than the popular Toyota Prius hybrid, the most efficient car now sold in the U.S.

Most automakers are working on similar designs, but GM would offer the first mainstream plug-in with the Volt, which seats four and was introduced at the 2007 Detroit auto show.

The Volt will join a growing fleet of cars and trucks powered by systems other than internal combustion engines.

Unlike the Prius and other traditional hybrids, the Volt is powered by an electric motor and a battery pack with a 40-mile range. After that, a small internal combustion engine kicks in to generate electricity for a total range of 300 miles. The battery pack can be recharged from a standard home outlet.

Hybrids use a small internal combustion engine combined with a high-powered battery to boost fuel efficiency. Toyota’s Prius – which starts at about $22,000 – gets 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway. The number of all-electric vehicles available to U.S. consumers remains limited. The Tesla Roadster, a high-end sports car with a range of 224 miles, is perhaps the best known. But its $100,000-plus price tag keeps it out of reach of all but the wealthiest drivers.

The company is working on an electric family sedan that will be priced considerably less.

Nissan Motor Co. unveiled its first electric car, the Leaf, earlier this month. Nissan said the vehicle will go on sale in Japan, the U.S. and Europe next year.

Edmunds.com, an auto Web site, cast doubt on whether drivers can expect 230 mpg from the Volt since fuel efficiency also depends on driving style.

Volt drivers who cruise sensibly on smooth roads without much cargo – and who avoid exceeding 20 or 30 miles between charges – might fill up only rarely. But “for most people, it is not realistic to expect that kind of mileage in real-world driving,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with the Web site.

General Motors Co. is touting the 230 mpg figure following early tests that used draft guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency for calculating the mileage of extended-range electric vehicles.

The EPA guidelines, developed with help from automakers, figure that cars such as the Volt will travel more on straight electricity in the city than on the highway. If drivers operate the Volt for less than 40 miles, in theory they could do so without using a drop of gasoline.

Highway mileage estimates for the Volt based on the EPA’s methodology have yet to be released.

“We are confident the highway (mileage) will be a triple-digit,” GM CEO Fritz Henderson said.

The EPA conducts testing to determine the mileage posted on new car stickers. The agency said in a statement Tuesday that it has not tested a Volt “and therefore cannot confirm the fuel economy values claimed by GM.”

The EPA is working with the Society of Automotive Engineers and state and federal officials to develop testing procedures to measure the fuel efficiency of advanced vehicles, according to a draft outline of the proposal obtained by The Associated Press.

The plan could be released later this year.

It was not immediately clear how GM reached the 230 mpg in city driving, but industry officials estimated the automaker’s calculation took into consideration the Volt traveling 40 miles on the electric battery and then achieving about 50 mpg when the engine kicked in.

Although Henderson would not give details on pricing, the first-generation Volt is expected to cost nearly $40,000, making it cost-prohibitive to many people even if gasoline returns to $4 per gallon.

The price of the sporty-looking sedan is expected to drop with future generations of the Volt, but GM has said government tax credits of up to $7,500 and the savings on fuel could make it more affordable, especially at 230 mpg.

“We get a little cautious about trying to forecast what fuel prices will do,” said Tony Posawatz, GM’s vehicle line director for the Volt. “We achieved this number, and if fuel prices go up, it certainly does get more attractive even in the near-term generation.”

The mileage figure could vary as the guidelines are refined and the Volt gets further along in the manufacturing process, Posawatz said.

Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co. and Daimler AG are all developing plug-ins and electric cars, and Toyota Motor Corp. is working on a plug-in version of its gas-electric hybrid system.

GM has produced about 30 test Volts so far and is making 10 a week, Henderson said during a presentation at the company’s technical center in the Detroit suburb of Warren.

Henderson said charging the Volt will cost about 40 cents a day, at about 5 cents per kilowatt hour.

GM is nearly halfway through building about 80 test Volts that will look and behave like the production model, and testing is running on schedule, Posawatz said.

Two critical areas – battery life and the electronic switching between battery and engine power – are still being refined, but the car is on schedule to reach showrooms late in 2010, he said.

GM is simulating tests to make sure the new lithium-ion batteries last 10 years, Posawatz said, as well as testing battery performance in extremely hot and cold climates.

“We’re further along, but we’re still quite a ways from home,” he said. “We’re developing quite a knowledge base on all this stuff. Our confidence is growing.”

The other area of new technology, switching between battery and engine power, is proceeding well, he said, with engineers just fine-tuning the operations.

“We’re very pleased with the transition from when it’s driving EV (electric vehicle) to when the engine and generator kick in,” he said.

GM also is finishing work on the power cord, which will be durable enough that it can survive being run over by the car. The Volt, he said, will have software on board so it can be programmed to begin and end charging during off-peak electrical use hours.

It will be easy for future Volt owners living in rural and suburban areas to plug in their cars at night, but even Henderson recognized the challenge urban, apartment dwellers, or those who park their cars on the street might have recharging the Volt. There could eventually be charging stations set up by a third-party to meet such a demand, Henderson said.

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MIKE CHINO, Inhabitat, July 27, 2009

48_group-2-1Although electric vehicle use is on the rise, we’re certainly not out of the woods yet in terms of providing them with a steady supply of clean energy – that’s why designer Neville Mars has conceived of an incredible EV charging station that takes the form of an evergreen glade of solar trees. His photovoltaic grove serves a dual function, acting as a go-to source for clean renewable energy while providing a shady spot for cars to park as they charge.

Each of the trees in Neville Mars’s solar forest is composed of a set of photovoltaic leaves mounted on an elegantly branching poll. The base of each trunk features an power outlet that can be used to juice up your eco ride as you run errands.

Neville told Inhabitat that the tree and leaf design wasn’t a goal but came naturally as they tried to maximize the shaded surface that the structures provide. Although the efficiency of overlapping photovoltaic panels initially raised some concerns, Neville went on to explain that the leaves rotate with the sun to ensure maximum efficiency. The solar forest is certainly an aesthetic step up from your standard sun-baked concrete parking lot, and serves as great inspiration for integrating solar technology with natural forms.

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SIOBHAN HUGHES, Dow Jones News, January 26, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to consider allowing California to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles, a policy that could spur the development of new vehicles.

“The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” Obama said at a press conference filled with environmental activists and members of his cabinet. He ordered the EPA to “immediately review” a 2007 decision to deny California the waiver it needs to go forward.

The action marks a sharp reversal from the administration of President George W. Bush, which concluded that California wasn’t entitled to its own standards as global warming wasn’t unique to the state. In putting the U.S. on a different course, Obama was signaling a broader commitment to reshaping U.S. energy habits.

“America’s dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced,” Obama said. “It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.”

It isn’t clear how quickly the EPA will make its decision — or how quickly the Obama administration can move the U.S. away from fossil fuels. The new administration already faces a severe economic recession, something that could make it harder for car companies to finance innovation. On Monday, General Motors Corp. (GM) said in a statement that while it was “ready to engage” with the Obama administration, any talks should take into account “economic factors” and the pace at which new technologies can development.

“We hold no illusion about the task that lies ahead,” Obama said. “I cannot promise a quick fix. No single technology or set of regulations will get the job done. But we will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is freed from our energy dependence and empowered by a new energy economy.”

Obama acted with the backing of the environmental wing of his base, which rushed out press releases to praise his action. Environment America, an environmental group, estimated that applying the California standard in just 13 other states would save 50 billion gallons of gasoline by 2020, for a total savings of $93 billion, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 450 million metric tons in total by 2020.

Obama separately ordered the U.S. Department of Transportation to finalize new automobile fuel-efficiency standards so that they will be in place for the 2011 model year. The Bush administration was supposed to implement the rules, mandated by a 2007 law, but left the issue to Obama.

EPA staff has already told Congress that allowing California to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles could spur technological innovation not just in California, but across the country. That is because states are free to stick with federal standards or adopt the California standard. Fourteen other states have already adopted the California standard and four more are considering doing so.

The California rules apply to greenhouse-gas emissions, and aren’t fuel- efficiency standards. But California regulators have said that their standard would result in vehicles that average 44 miles per gallon. That compares with a 35 mile-per-gallon standard established by Congress for 2020.

Among the possible new technologies to be developed: electric cars. As part of a broad rule-making on greenhouse-gas emissions last year, the EPA staff said that between 2020 and 2025, vehicle fuel-efficiency standards could be well above the 35-mile-per gallon mandated by Congress, based on technologies such as plug-in hybrid vehicles, which run partly on rechargeable batteries. As if to underscore the point, acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said Monday that regulators and the automobile industry must integrate electric vehicles into the national power grid.

“If you’re an automobile company, you’d better get on the bandwagon, because if you don’t, you’re going to be left out of the band because there is definitely going to be a move toward electrification worldwide,” Wellinghoff said.

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THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, The New York Times, December 10, 2008

As I think about our bailing out Detroit, I can’t help but reflect on what, in my view, is the most important rule of business in today’s integrated and digitized global market, where knowledge and innovation tools are so widely distributed. It’s this: Whatever can be done, will be done. The only question is will it be done by you or to you. Just don’t think it won’t be done. If you have an idea in Detroit or Tennessee, promise me that you’ll pursue it, because someone in Denmark or Tel Aviv will do so a second later.

Why do I bring this up? Because someone in the mobility business in Denmark and Tel Aviv is already developing a real-world alternative to Detroit’s business model. I don’t know if this alternative to gasoline-powered cars will work, but I do know that it can be done — and Detroit isn’t doing it. And therefore it will be done, and eventually, I bet, it will be done profitably.

And when it is, our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of Amazon.com and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.

What business model am I talking about? It is Shai Agassi’s electric car network company, called Better Place. Just last week, the company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., announced a partnership with the state of Hawaii to road test its business plan there after already inking similar deals with Israel, Australia, the San Francisco Bay area and, yes, Denmark.

The Better Place electric car charging system involves generating electrons from as much renewable energy — such as wind and solar — as possible and then feeding those clean electrons into a national electric car charging infrastructure. This consists of electricity charging spots with plug-in outlets — the first pilots were opened in Israel this week — plus battery-exchange stations all over the respective country. The whole system is then coordinated by a service control center that integrates and does the billing.

Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car from the French automaker Renault or Japanese companies like Nissan (General Motors snubbed Agassi) and then buy miles on their electric car batteries from Better Place the way you now buy an Apple cellphone and the minutes from AT&T. That way Better Place, or any car company that partners with it, benefits from each mile you drive. G.M. sells cars. Better Place is selling mobility miles.

The first Renault and Nissan electric cars are scheduled to hit Denmark and Israel in 2011, when the whole system should be up and running. On Tuesday, Japan’s Ministry of Environment invited Better Place to join the first government-led electric car project along with Honda, Mitsubishi and Subaru. Better Place was the only foreign company invited to participate, working with Japan’s leading auto companies, to build a battery swap station for electric cars in Yokohama, the Detroit of Japan.

What I find exciting about Better Place is that it is building a car company off the new industrial platform of the 21st century, not the one from the 20th — the exact same way that Steve Jobs did to overturn the music business. What did Apple understand first? One, that today’s technology platform would allow anyone with a computer to record music. Two, that the Internet and MP3 players would allow anyone to transfer music in digital form to anyone else. You wouldn’t need CDs or record companies anymore. Apple simply took all those innovations and integrated them into a single music-generating, purchasing and listening system that completely disrupted the music business.

What Agassi, the founder of Better Place, is saying is that there is a new way to generate mobility, not just music, using the same platform. It just takes the right kind of auto battery — the iPod in this story — and the right kind of national plug-in network — the iTunes store — to make the business model work for electric cars at six cents a mile. The average American is paying today around 12 cents a mile for gasoline transportation, which also adds to global warming and strengthens petro-dictators.

Do not expect this innovation to come out of Detroit. Remember, in 1908, the Ford Model-T got better mileage — 25 miles per gallon — than many Ford, G.M. and Chrysler models made in 2008. But don’t be surprised when it comes out of somewhere else. It can be done. It will be done. If we miss the chance to win the race for Car 2.0 because we keep mindlessly bailing out Car 1.0, there will be no one to blame more than Detroit’s new shareholders: we the taxpayers.

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JOHN MARKOFF, The New York Times, December 3, 2008

The State of Hawai’i and the Hawaiian Electric Company on Tuesday endorsed an effort to build an alternative transportation system based on electric vehicles with swappable batteries and an “intelligent” battery recharging network.

The plan, the brainchild of the former Silicon Valley software executive Shai Agassi, is an effort to overcome the major hurdles to electric cars — slow battery recharging and limited availability.

By using existing electric car technologies, coupled with an Internet-connected web of tens of thousands of recharging stations, he thinks his company, Better Place L.L.C. of Palo Alto, Calif., will make all-electric vehicles feasible.

Mr. Agassi has succeeded in assembling a growing consortium of national governments, regional planning organizations and one major car company. Tuesday’s announcement follows earlier endorsements from Israel, Denmark, Australia, Renault-Nissan and a coalition of Northern California localities supporting the idea leading to the deployment of an electric vehicle with a range of greater than 100 miles, beginning at the end of 2010 in Israel. The company plans test deployments of vehicles in 2009 and broad commercial sales in 2012.

Mr. Agassi has raised $200 million in private financing for his idea. In October, he obtained a commitment from the Macquarie Capital Group to raise an additional $1 billion for an Australian project.

On Tuesday, he said that he was optimistic about his project despite the dismal investment and credit markets because his network could provide investors with an annuity. Users of his recharging network would subscribe to the service, paying for access and for the miles they drive.

Given the downturn in the mortgage market, he said that investors are looking for new classes of assets that will provide dependable revenue streams over many years. “I believe the new asset class is batteries,” he said. “When you have a driver in a car using a battery, nobody is going to cut their subscription and stop driving.”

Mr. Agassi has argued that even if oil prices continued to decline, his electric recharging network — which ideally would use renewable energy sources like solar and wind — could provide competitively priced energy for a new class of vehicles.

He supposes that his network idea will be appropriate first for “island” economies that typically have significantly higher energy costs, and then will become more cost-competitive as it is scaled up.

“We always knew Hawaii would be the perfect model,” he said in a telephone interview. “The typical driving plan is low and leisurely, and people are smiling.”

Hawaii is a relatively small market with high energy costs. The state has about 1.2 million cars and replaces 70,000 to 120,000 vehicles annually.

Drivers on the islands also rarely make trips of more than 100 miles, meaning there will be less need for his proposed battery recharging stations. Part of Mr. Agassi’s model depends on quick-change service stations to swap batteries for drivers who need to use their cars before they have completely recharged their batteries.

Peter Rosegg, a spokesman for the Hawaiian Electric Company, said that Better Place would become a major customer for electricity and was also planning to invest in renewable energy sources that would be connected to the electric grid.

“It’s going to be a nonexclusive agreement, but so far they’re the only one that has shown up,” Mr. Rosegg said.

In late November, the mayors of San Francisco and other major Bay Area cities endorsed the Better Place network to help create an electric recharging network by 2012. The company estimates that it will cost $1 billion to build a charging network in the Bay Area that may create as many as half a million charging stations.

Despite challenges, the Better Place model is promising, said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. It could appeal to owners of fleets of vehicles and to early adopter customers who are willing to work through the difficulties that will inevitably accompany a new transportation system. “It has a lot of promising features,” he said.

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