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Anything into Oil(solution to dependence on foregn oil?)
DISCOVER Vol. 24 No. 5 ^ | May 2003 | Brad Lemley

Posted on 04/21/2003 5:57:41 AM PDT by honway

In an industrial park in Philadelphia sits a new machine that can change almost anything into oil.


"This is a solution to three of the biggest problems facing mankind," says Brian Appel, chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, the company that built this pilot plant and has just completed its first industrial-size installation in Missouri. "This process can deal with the world's waste. It can supplement our dwindling supplies of oil. And it can slow down global warming."

Pardon me, says a reporter, shivering in the frigid dawn, but that sounds too good to be true. "Everybody says that," says Appel. He is a tall, affable entrepreneur who has assembled a team of scientists, former government leaders, and deep-pocketed investors to develop and sell what he calls the thermal depolymerization process, or TDP. The process is designed to handle almost any waste product imaginable, including turkey offal, tires, plastic bottles, harbor-dredged muck, old computers, municipal garbage, cornstalks, paper-pulp effluent, infectious medical waste, oil-refinery residues, even biological weapons such as anthrax spores. According to Appel, waste goes in one end and comes out the other as three products, all valuable and environmentally benign: high-quality oil, clean-burning gas, and purified minerals that can be used as fuels, fertilizers, or specialty chemicals for manufacturing.

Unlike other solid-to-liquid-fuel processes such as cornstarch into ethanol, this one will accept almost any carbon-based feedstock. If a 175-pound man fell into one end, he would come out the other end as 38 pounds of oil, 7 pounds of gas, and 7 pounds of minerals, as well as 123 pounds of sterilized water. While no one plans to put people into a thermal depolymerization machine, an intimate human creation could become a prime feedstock. "There is no reason why we can't turn sewage, including human excrement, into a glorious oil," says engineer Terry Adams, a project consultant. So the city of Philadelphia is in discussion with Changing World Technologies to begin doing exactly that.

"The potential is unbelievable," says Michael Roberts, a senior chemical engineer for the Gas Technology Institute, an energy research group. "You're not only cleaning up waste; you're talking about distributed generation of oil all over the world."

"This is not an incremental change. This is a big, new step," agrees Alf Andreassen, a venture capitalist with the Paladin Capital Group and a former Bell Laboratories director. The offal-derived oil, is chemically almost identical to a number two fuel oil used to heat homes.

Andreassen and others anticipate that a large chunk of the world's agricultural, industrial, and municipal waste may someday go into thermal depolymerization machines scattered all over the globe. If the process works as well as its creators claim, not only would most toxic waste problems become history, so would imported oil. Just converting all the U.S. agricultural waste into oil and gas would yield the energy equivalent of 4 billion barrels of oil annually. In 2001 the United States imported 4.2 billion barrels of oil. Referring to U.S. dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East, R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and an adviser to Changing World Technologies, says, "This technology offers a beginning of a way away from this."

But first things first. Today, here at the plant at Philadelphia's Naval Business Center, the experimental feedstock is turkey processing-plant waste: feathers, bones, skin, blood, fat, guts. A forklift dumps 1,400 pounds of the nasty stuff into the machine's first stage, a 350-horsepower grinder that masticates it into gray brown slurry. From there it flows into a series of tanks and pipes, which hum and hiss as they heat, digest, and break down the mixture. Two hours later, a white-jacketed technician turns a spigot. Out pours a honey-colored fluid, steaming a bit in the cold warehouse as it fills a glass beaker.

It really is a lovely oil. "The longest carbon chains are C-18 or so," says Appel, admiring the liquid. "That's a very light oil. It is essentially the same as a mix of half fuel oil, half gasoline."

Private investors, who have chipped in $40 million to develop the process, aren't the only ones who are impressed. The federal government has granted more than $12 million to push the work along. "We will be able to make oil for $8 to $12 a barrel," says Paul Baskis, the inventor of the process. "We are going to be able to switch to a carbohydrate economy."

Making oil and gas from hydrocarbon-based waste is a trick that Earth mastered long ago. Most crude oil comes from one-celled plants and animals that die, settle to ocean floors, decompose, and are mashed by sliding tectonic plates, a process geologists call subduction. Under pressure and heat, the dead creatures' long chains of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon-bearing molecules, known as polymers, decompose into short-chain petroleum hydrocarbons. However, Earth takes its own sweet time doing this—generally thousands or millions of years—because subterranean heat and pressure changes are chaotic. Thermal depolymerization machines turbocharge the process by precisely raising heat and pressure to levels that break the feedstock's long molecular bonds.

Many scientists have tried to convert organic solids to liquid fuel using waste products before, but their efforts have been notoriously inefficient. "The problem with most of these methods was that they tried to do the transformation in one step—superheat the material to drive off the water and simultaneously break down the molecules," says Appel. That leads to profligate energy use and makes it possible for hazardous substances to pollute the finished product.

Very wet waste—and much of the world's waste is wet—is particularly difficult to process efficiently because driving off the water requires so much energy. Usually, the Btu content in the resulting oil or gas barely exceeds the amount needed to make the stuff.

That's the challenge that Baskis, a microbiologist and inventor who lives in Rantoul, Illinois, confronted in the late 1980s. He says he "had a flash" of insight about how to improve the basic ideas behind another inventor's waste-reforming process. "The prototype I saw produced a heavy, burned oil," recalls Baskis. "I drew up an improvement and filed the first patents." He spent the early 1990s wooing investors and, in 1996, met Appel, a former commodities trader. "I saw what this could be and took over the patents," says Appel, who formed a partnership with the Gas Technology Institute and had a demonstration plant up and running by 1999.

Thermal depolymerization, Appel says, has proved to be 85 percent energy efficient for complex feedstocks, such as turkey offal: "That means for every 100 Btus in the feedstock, we use only 15 Btus to run the process." He contends the efficiency is even better for relatively dry raw materials, such as plastics.

So how does it work? In the cold Philadelphia warehouse, Appel waves a long arm at the apparatus, which looks surprisingly low tech: a tangle of pressure vessels, pipes, valves, and heat exchangers terminating in storage tanks. It resembles the oil refineries that stretch to the horizon on either side of the New Jersey Turnpike, and in part, that's exactly what it is.

Appel strides to a silver gray pressure tank that is 20 feet long, three feet wide, heavily insulated, and wrapped with electric heating coils. He raps on its side. "The chief difference in our process is that we make water a friend rather than an enemy," he says. "The other processes all tried to drive out water. We drive it in, inside this tank, with heat and pressure. We super-hydrate the material." Thus temperatures and pressures need only be modest, because water helps to convey heat into the feedstock. "We're talking about temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures of about 600 pounds for most organic material—not at all extreme or energy intensive. And the cooking times are pretty short, usually about 15 minutes."

Once the organic soup is heated and partially depolymerized in the reactor vessel, phase two begins. "We quickly drop the slurry to a lower pressure," says Appel, pointing at a branching series of pipes. The rapid depressurization releases about 90 percent of the slurry's free water. Dehydration via depressurization is far cheaper in terms of energy consumed than is heating and boiling off the water, particularly because no heat is wasted. "We send the flashed-off water back up there," Appel says, pointing to a pipe that leads to the beginning of the process, "to heat the incoming stream."

At this stage, the minerals—in turkey waste, they come mostly from bones—settle out and are shunted to storage tanks. Rich in calcium and magnesium, the dried brown powder "is a perfect balanced fertilizer," Appel says.

The remaining concentrated organic soup gushes into a second-stage reactor similar to the coke ovens used to refine oil into gasoline. "This technology is as old as the hills," says Appel, grinning broadly. The reactor heats the soup to about 900 degrees Fahrenheit to further break apart long molecular chains. Next, in vertical distillation columns, hot vapor flows up, condenses, and flows out from different levels: gases from the top of the column, light oils from the upper middle, heavier oils from the middle, water from the lower middle, and powdered carbon—used to manufacture tires, filters, and printer toners—from the bottom. "Gas is expensive to transport, so we use it on-site in the plant to heat the process," Appel says. The oil, minerals, and carbon are sold to the highest bidders.

Depending on the feedstock and the cooking and coking times, the process can be tweaked to make other specialty chemicals that may be even more profitable than oil. Turkey offal, for example, can be used to produce fatty acids for soap, tires, paints, and lubricants. Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC—the stuff of house siding, wallpapers, and plastic pipes—yields hydrochloric acid, a relatively benign and industrially valuable chemical used to make cleaners and solvents. "That's what's so great about making water a friend," says Appel. "The hydrogen in water combines with the chlorine in PVC to make it safe. If you burn PVC [in a municipal-waste incinerator], you get dioxin—very toxic."

Brian Appel, CEO of Changing World Technologies, strolls through a thermal depolymerization plant in Philadelphia. Experiments at the pilot facility revealed that the process is scalable—plants can sprawl over acres and handle 4,000 tons of waste a day or be "small enough to go on the back of a flatbed truck" and handle just one ton daily, says Appel.

The technicians here have spent three years feeding different kinds of waste into their machinery to formulate recipes. In a little trailer next to the plant, Appel picks up a handful of one-gallon plastic bags sent by a potential customer in Japan. The first is full of ground-up appliances, each piece no larger than a pea. "Put a computer and a refrigerator into a grinder, and that's what you get," he says, shaking the bag. "It's PVC, wood, fiberglass, metal, just a mess of different things. This process handles mixed waste beautifully." Next to the ground-up appliances is a plastic bucket of municipal sewage. Appel pops the lid and instantly regrets it. "Whew," he says. "That is nasty."

Experimentation revealed that different waste streams require different cooking and coking times and yield different finished products. "It's a two-step process, and you do more in step one or step two depending on what you are processing," Terry Adams says. "With the turkey guts, you do the lion's share in the first stage. With mixed plastics, most of the breakdown happens in the second stage." The oil-to-mineral ratios vary too. Plastic bottles, for example, yield copious amounts of oil, while tires yield more minerals and other solids. So far, says Adams, "nothing hazardous comes out from any feedstock we try."

"The only thing this process can't handle is nuclear waste," Appel says. "If it contains carbon, we can do it."

This Philadelphia pilot plant can handle only seven tons of waste a day, but 1,054 miles to the west, in Carthage, Missouri, about 100 yards from one of ConAgra Foods' massive Butterball Turkey plants, sits the company's first commercial-scale thermal depolymerization plant. The $20 million facility, scheduled to go online any day, is expected to digest more than 200 tons of turkey-processing waste every 24 hours.

The north side of Carthage smells like Thanksgiving all the time. At the Butterball plant, workers slaughter, pluck, parcook, and package 30,000 turkeys each workday, filling the air with the distinctive tang of boiling bird. A factory tour reveals the grisly realities of large-scale poultry processing. Inside, an endless chain of hanging carcasses clanks past knife-wielding laborers who slash away. Outside, a tanker truck idles, full to the top with fresh turkey blood. For many years, ConAgra Foods has trucked the plant's waste—feathers, organs, and other nonusable parts—to a rendering facility where it was ground and dried to make animal feed, fertilizer, and other chemical products. But bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, can spread among cattle from recycled feed, and although no similar disease has been found in poultry, regulators are becoming skittish about feeding animals to animals.

In Europe the practice is illegal for all livestock. Since 1997, the United States has prohibited the feeding of most recycled animal waste to cattle. Ultimately, the specter of European-style mad-cow regulations may kick-start the acceptance of thermal depolymerization. "In Europe, there are mountains of bones piling up," says Alf Andreassen. "When recycling waste into feed stops in this country, it will change everything."

Because depolymerization takes apart materials at the molecular level, Appel says, it is "the perfect process for destroying pathogens." On a wet afternoon in Carthage, he smiles at the new plant—an artless assemblage of gray and dun-colored buildings—as if it were his favorite child.

"This plant will make 10 tons of gas per day, which will go back into the system to make heat to power the system," he says. "It will make 21,000 gallons of water, which will be clean enough to discharge into a municipal sewage system. Pathological vectors will be completely gone. It will make 11 tons of minerals and 600 barrels of oil, high-quality stuff, the same specs as a number two heating oil." He shakes his head almost as if he can't believe it. "It's amazing.

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't even consider us waste handlers. We are actually manufacturers—that's what our permit says. This process changes the whole industrial equation. Waste goes from a cost to a profit."

He watches as burly men in coveralls weld and grind the complex loops of piping. A group of 15 investors and corporate advisers, including Howard Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, stroll among the sparks and hissing torches, listening to a tour led by plant manager Don Sanders. A veteran of the refinery business, Sanders emphasizes that once the pressurized water is flashed off, "the process is similar to oil refining. The equipment, the procedures, the safety factors, the maintenance—it's all proven technology."

And it will be profitable, promises Appel. "We've done so much testing in Philadelphia, we already know the costs," he says. "This is our first-out plant, and we estimate we'll make oil at $15 a barrel. In three to five years, we'll drop that to $10, the same as a medium-size oil exploration and production company. And it will get cheaper from there."

"We've got a lot of confidence in this," Buffett says. "I represent ConAgra's investment. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't anticipate success." Buffett isn't alone. Appel has lined up federal grant money to help build demonstration plants to process chicken offal and manure in Alabama and crop residuals and grease in Nevada. Also in the works are plants to process turkey waste and manure in Colorado and pork and cheese waste in Italy. He says the first generation of depolymerization centers will be up and running in 2005. By then it should be clear whether the technology is as miraculous as its backers claim.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Front Page News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: abiogenic; anwr; co2; electrolysis; energy; energylist; oil; thomasgold
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To: Walkingfeather
Sometimes people do create amazing things that work even when you do not believe them.

I also seem to recall a quote (can't remember the exact source) of Wilber Write declaring that secrets of powered flight were unlikely to be discovered within his lifetime. A couple of years later they were taking turns piloting the Write Flyer. Even in the weeks and months after their success, there were still a lot of people in the media claiming that it was a scam. The only thing that shut them up was when people actually started buying and flying the damn things.

41 posted on 04/21/2003 7:31:58 AM PDT by Orangedog (Soccer-Moms are the biggest threat to your freedoms and the republic !)
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To: m1911

Posted on Wed, Apr. 16, 2003

Firm says it can create oil from waste products
By Tom Avril
Inquirer Staff Writer

Attention, Middle East oil barons! Some scientists toiling away in a South Philadelphia warehouse say they can give you fits. Their secret:

Turkey guts and old tires.

Those unwanted items, as well as plastics and anything else made of carbon and hydrogen, can be turned into oil. The scientists claim that the stuff is generally cleaner than what comes out of the ground, and that it would sharply reduce our dependence on foreign oil producers.

Don't believe it?

Neither does anyone else - at first.

"No variation," said Terry N. Adams, chief technology officer of Changing World Technologies Inc. "The initial reaction of everybody is skepticism."

Officials from the Long Island company demonstrated part of the waste-to-oil process yesterday at the Philadelphia Naval Business Center in a pilot plant built three years ago.

A full-scale plant is scheduled to go into operation later this month in Carthage, Mo. That $20 million plant will use the waste from a nearby turkey-processing plant owned by ConAgra Foods Inc., which formed a joint venture with Changing World to develop the technology.

Up to 200 tons a day of feathers, gristle, bones and fat will go in one end. Oil, similar to the stuff sold to heat homes, will come out the other.

The process is called "thermal depolymerization" - essentially heating the waste products in a low-oxygen environment so they break down into hydrocarbons without burning.

The concept has been around for decades, but no one has been able to do it cheaply enough to compete with drilling for oil.

Brian Appel, Changing World's chief executive officer, said the company's production costs were now $15 a barrel, not counting capital costs, compared with $5 to $13 a barrel for drilling for oil the old-fashioned way.

Appel said that, with the opening of additional plants, his costs would come down to near $5 a barrel.

Not everyone believes him, but plenty do. Based partly on the success of the Philadelphia plant, the venture received $14.5 million in federal grants to help build four more, including the one in Missouri.

The others also would be situated next to ConAgra facilities: Alabama (using leftover chicken parts), Nevada (onion husks), and Colorado (turkey waste). The grants are from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The City of Philadelphia also gave the company a $50,000 contract to study how to turn the city's sewage sludge into oil.

Scientists who have tried depolymerization in the past were intrigued by the company's claims, but said they would reserve judgment until they could see technical documentation.

"I would, of course, be skeptical until I could better understand what was going on," said Robert C. Brown, an engineering professor and head of the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies at Iowa State University.

Brown questioned whether the process required too much energy to heat the turkey guts and other raw materials, which are mixed with water and made into a slurry for processing.

He also questioned whether the raw materials would always be obtained so cheaply. For now, the company is counting on being paid to take old tires and other unwanted wastes.

"Once they're producing something as valuable as they say they are, people aren't going to give away dead chickens to them anymore," Brown said.

Ted Aulich, a University of North Dakota chemist who has researched a similar process for the plastics industry, said it might be economical but only in situations where a ready stream of waste were available.

"It's going to be a niche-type thing to start," Aulich said.

New government policies could work in favor of the venture. Just yesterday, for example, the Bush administration announced tougher rules for diesel emissions, requiring bulldozers and tractors to burn low-sulfur fuel. Changing World's oil is far lower in sulfur than what typically comes out of the ground.

Another boost could come from the growing concern over "mad cow" disease. Animal wastes have typically been ground up and sold as feed, but some have blamed that process for spreading the disease.

Acknowledging that turkey guts are not normally what comes to mind with South Philadelphia, Appel explained why the company chose the site for its research and development.

Kvaerner ASA was already there building the new shipyard, and was able to build a warehouse for Changing World at low cost. City officials also helped cut through environmental regulations and other red tape to lure the company, he said. In addition, the company secured a favorable lease on the property from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.

"We've been embraced by the people of this city," Appel said.

If he finds a way to turn its sewage into oil, the city may embrace him even more.

42 posted on 04/21/2003 7:39:19 AM PDT by honway
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To: m1911
A full-scale plant is scheduled to go into operation later this month in Carthage, Mo

You are correct.

43 posted on 04/21/2003 7:40:59 AM PDT by honway
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To: honway
Oil alchemy? Or crude joke?
44 posted on 04/21/2003 7:43:57 AM PDT by Consort (Use only un-hyphenated words when posting.)
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To: honway
"It will make 21,000 gallons of water, which will be clean enough to discharge into a municipal sewage system."

So much for the world's water "crisis".

45 posted on 04/21/2003 7:50:03 AM PDT by William Terrell (People can exist without government but government can't exist without people.)
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To: honway
Soylent Green BTTT.

Interesting Technology.

46 posted on 04/21/2003 7:50:16 AM PDT by tcostell
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To: tcostell
"Oil is made of people!"
47 posted on 04/21/2003 7:55:54 AM PDT by m1911
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To: honway
This is an excellent post!

Ya know, I've been of the opinion for quite a long time, that all we need to solve just about any problem is an american with an idea and investors looking to make a profit.

If the process is as efficient as they are claiming, it could very well have serious geopolitical ramifications over the next 30 years. Just about every large agribusiness would find this process to be useful. I can even imagine the possibility of having folx who grow crops specifically for the purpose of rendering them into oil. These people rock, and I hope for 2 things. First, that it works as stated in the article. Second, for developing it, I hope the investors make obscene amounts of money.

48 posted on 04/21/2003 7:57:32 AM PDT by zeugma (If you use microsoft products, you are feeding the beast.)
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To: honway
It's a dam& muracull. Prounounced with a distinctly southern, and tinge of redneck accent. Actually this is a wait and see hope it works bump.
49 posted on 04/21/2003 8:06:11 AM PDT by wita (
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To: honway
Any word on the date of the IPO?
50 posted on 04/21/2003 8:17:46 AM PDT by Freebird Forever
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To: zeugma
The thing the surprises me most is the near complete silence on this subject in the mainstream media.

Do you recall how the media covered Ginger, which was a scooter?

Unless this mult-million dollar venture is a complete fraud, and I am with Howard Buffett betting it is not,this may be one of the most important news stories of the year. Yet, there is little coverage in the media.

51 posted on 04/21/2003 8:21:52 AM PDT by honway
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To: *Energy_List
52 posted on 04/21/2003 8:21:58 AM PDT by Free the USA (Stooge for the Rich)
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Hmmm... My organic isn't that good, but this sounds interesting...
53 posted on 04/21/2003 8:24:54 AM PDT by Chemist_Geek ("Drill, R&D, and conserve" should be our watchwords! Energy independence for America!)
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To: Chemist_Geek
Nice tagline for this thread.
54 posted on 04/21/2003 8:33:46 AM PDT by m1911
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To: honway

The next big thing. Please flag me to any new reports on this process and the tests of the Missouri plant.

I'd buy stock now if it was public. But the Buffets and their buddies have a lock on it, I would guess.
55 posted on 04/21/2003 8:42:33 AM PDT by George W. Bush
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To: George W. Bush
Yeah, the Buffets have been moving out of the market to private companies.
56 posted on 04/21/2003 9:27:44 AM PDT by m1911
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To: honway
"Thermal depolymerization, Appel says, has proved to be 85 percent energy efficient for complex feedstocks, such as turkey offal: "That means for every 100 Btus in the feedstock, we use only 15 Btus to run the process." He contends the efficiency is even better for relatively dry raw materials, such as plastics."

So long as the efficiency is < 100% (which it must be) you cannot get 'something for nothing'. That 15% simply means you are putting in 100 Btus and getting 85 back as fuel.

57 posted on 04/21/2003 9:50:53 AM PDT by boris (Education is always painful; pain is always educational)
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To: m1911
google search for "thermal depolymerization" lists 243 links, some already posted on this thread

[I couldn't get the google search link to work here]
58 posted on 04/21/2003 9:56:12 AM PDT by citizen (Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!)
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To: CollegeRepublican
I was thinking the same thing.

Question now is: how many molecules make up a single prion, and if a prion is more than one molecule, can broken-up "individualized" prion molecules act as mini-infectious particles/agents?

59 posted on 04/21/2003 9:57:35 AM PDT by IWONDR
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To: honway
Seems to have President Bush fooled too. Not!

Dubya: A new generation of technology has been developed by Changing World Technologies which can solve the nation's energy crisis and turn waste materials into valuable and marketable fuel alternatives. These processes also solve the nation's waste disposal problems by eliminating all residuals. The time has come to utilize waste materials as resources and the technology has advanced to make such a transformation achievable.

60 posted on 04/21/2003 10:01:53 AM PDT by Tunehead54 (Support Our Troops!)
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