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Batteries have become indispensable for energy storage in renewable energy systems such as solar and wind. In fact the cost of battery bank, replacements, operation and maintenance will exceed the cost of PV solar panels for off grid applications during the life cycle of 20 years. However, batteries are continued to be used by electric power utilities for the benefits of peak shaving and load leveling. Battery energy storage facilities give the dynamic benefits such as voltage and frequency regulation, load following, spinning reserve and power factor correction along with the ability to give peak power.

Fuel cell power generation is another attractive option for providing power for electric utilities and commercial buildings due to its high-efficiency and environmentally friendly nature. This type of power production is especially economical, where potential users are faced with high cost in electric power generation from coal or oil, or where environmental constraints are stringent, or where load constraints of transmission and distribution systems are so tight that their new installations are not possible. Both batteries and fuel cells have their own unique advantages to electric power systems. They also contain a great potential to back up severe PV power fluctuations under varying weather conditions.

Photovoltaic power outputs vary depending mainly upon solar insolation and cell temperature.  PV power generator may sometimes experience sharp fluctuations owing to intermittent weather conditions, which causes control problems such as load frequency control, generator voltage control and even system stability.  Therefore there is a need for backup power facilities in the PV power generation.   Fuel cells and batteries are able to respond very fast to load changes because their electricity is generated by chemical reactions. A 14.4kW lead acid battery running at 600A has greatest load gradient of 300 A/sec, a phosphoric-acid fuel cell system can match a demand that varies by more than half its rated output within 0.1 second. The dynamic response time of a 20kW solid-oxide fuel cell power plant is less than 4 second when a load increases from 1 to 100%, and it is less than 2 msec when a load decreases from 100 to 1%.  Factory assembled units provides fuel cell and battery power plants with short lead-time from planning to installation. This modular production enables them to be added in varying increments of capacity, to match the power plant capacity to expected load growth. In contrast, the installation of a single large conventional power plant may produce excess capacity for several years, especially if the load growth rate is low.  Due to their multiple parallel modular units and absence of combustion and electromechanical rotary devices, fuel cell and battery power plants are more reliable than any other forms of power generation. Fuel cells are expected to obtain performance reliability near 85%. Consequently, a utility that installs a number of fuel cell or battery power plants is able to cut its reserve margin capacity while maintaining a constant level of the system reliability. The electrochemical conversion processes of fuel cells and batteries are silent because they do not have any major rotating devices or combustion.  Water requirement for their operation is very little while conventional power plants require a massive amount of water for system cooling.

Therefore, they can eliminate water quality problems created by the conventional plants’ thermal discharges. Air pollutant emission levels of fuel cells and batteries are none or very little. Emissions of SO2 and NOx in the fuel cell power plant are 0.003 lb/MWh and 0.0004 lb/MWh respectively. Those values are projected to be about 1,000 times smaller than those of fossil-fuel power plants since fuel cells do not rely on combustion process. These environmentally friendly characteristics make it possible for those power plants to be located close to load centers in urban and suburban area. It can also cut energy losses and costs associated with transmission and distribution equipment. Their site near load centers may also cut the likelihood of power outage.

Electricity is produced in a storage battery by electro-chemical reactions. Similar chemical reactions take place in a fuel cell, but there is a difference between them with respect to fuel storage. In storage batteries chemical energy is stored in the positive/negative electrodes of the batteries. In fuel cells, however, the fuels are stored externally and need to be fed into the electrodes continuously when the fuel cells are operated to generate electricity.

Power generation in fuel cells is not limited by the Carnot Cycle in the view that they directly convert available chemical free energy to electrical energy than going through combustion processes.  Therefore fuel cell is a more efficient power conversion technology than the conventional steam-applying power generations. Fuel cell is a one-step process to generate electricity, the conventional power generator has several steps for electricity generation and each step incurs a certain amount of energy loss. Fuel cell power systems have around 40-60% efficiencies depending on the type of electrolytes. For example, the efficiencies of phosphoric-acid fuel cells and molten-carbonate fuel cells are 40-45% and 50-60%, respectively. Furthermore, the fuel cell efficiency is usually independent of size; small power plants run as efficiently as large ones. Battery power systems themselves have high energy efficiencies of nearly 80%, but their overall system efficiencies from fuel through the batteries to converted ac power are reduced to below 30%. This is due to energy losses taking place when one energy form is converted to another

A battery with a rated capacity of 200Ah battery will give less than 200 Ah. At less than 20A of discharge rates, the battery will give more that 200 Ah. The capacity of a battery is specified by their time rate of discharge. As the battery discharges, its terminal voltage, the product of the load current and the battery internal resistance gradually decreases. There is also a reduction in battery capacity with increasing rate of discharge. At 1-hr discharge rate, the available capacity is only 55% of that obtained at 20-hr rate. This is because there is insufficient time for the stronger acid to replace the weak acid inside the battery as the discharge proceeds.   For fuel cell power systems, they have equally high-efficiency at both partial and full loads. The customer’s demand for electrical energy is not always constant. So for a power utility to keep adjustment to this changing demand, either large base-load power plants must sometimes run at part load, or smaller peaking units must be used during periods of high demand. Either way, efficiency suffers or pollution increases. Fuel cell systems have a greater efficiency at full load and this high-efficiency is retained as load diminishes, so inefficient peaking generators may not be needed.

Fuel cells have an advantage over storage batteries in the respect of operational flexibility. Batteries need several hours for recharging after they are fully discharged. During discharge the batteries’ electrode materials are lost to the electrolyte, and the electrode materials can be recovered during the recharging process. Over time there is a net loss of such materials, which may be permanently lost when the battery goes through a deep discharge. The limited storage capacity of the batteries implies that it is impossible for them to run beyond several hours.

Fuel cells do not undergo such material changes. The fuel stored outside the cells can quickly be replenished, so they do not run down as long as the fuel can be supplied.   The fuel cells show higher energy density than the batteries when they run for more than 2 hours. It means that fuel cell power systems with relatively small weight and volume can produce large energy outputs. That will give the operators in central control centers for the flexibility needed for more efficient use of the capital-intensive fuel cell power plants.

In addition, where hydrogen storage is possible, renewable power sources can drive an electrolysis process to produce hydrogen gas during off-peak periods that will be used to run the fuel cells during peak demands. The usage of storage batteries in an electric utility industry is expected to increase for the purposes of load leveling at peak loads, real-time frequency control, and stabilizing transmission lines. When integrated with photovoltaic systems, the batteries are required to suppress the PV power fluctuations due to the changes of solar intensity and cell temperature. The fact that the PV power outputs change sharply under cloudy  weather conditions makes it hard to decide the capacity of the battery power plants since their discharging rates are not constant. For a lead-acid battery, the most applicable battery technology for photovoltaic applications to date, the depth of discharge should not exceed 80% because the deep discharge cycle reduces its effective lifetime. In order to prevent the deep discharge and to supplement varying the PV powers generated on cloudy weather days, the battery capacity must be large. Moreover, the large battery capacity is usually not fully used, but for only several days. Fuel cells integrated with photovoltaic systems can give smoother operation. The fuel cell system is capable of responding quickly enough to level the combined power output of the hybrid PV-fuel cell system in case of severe changes in PV power output. Such a fast time response capability allows a utility to lower its need for on-line spinning reserve. The flexibility of longer daily operation also makes it possible for the fuel cells to do more than the roles of gas-fired power plants. Gas turbines are not economical for a purpose of load following because their efficiencies become lower and operating costs get higher at less than full load conditions

Fuel cell does not emit any emission except water vapor and there is absolutely no carbon emission.  However, storage batteries themselves do not contain any environmental impacts even though the battery charging sources produce various emissions and solid wastes. When an Electrolyzer is used to generate Hydrogen on site to fuel the Fuel cell, the cost of the system comes down due to much reduction in the capacity of the battery. The specific cost of energy and NPC is lower than fully backed battery system.

During dismantling, battery power plants require a significant amount of care for their disposal to prevent toxic materials from spreading around. All batteries that are commercially viable or under development for power system applications contain hazardous and toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, sodium, sulfur, bromine, etc. Since the batteries have no salvage value and must be treated as hazardous wastes, disposal of spent batteries is an issue. Recycling batteries is encouraged and not placing them in a landfill. One method favoring recycling of spent batteries is regulation. Thermal treatment for the lead-acid and cadmium-containing batteries is needed to recover lead and cadmium. Sodium-sulfur and zinc bromine batteries are also required to be treated before disposal.

Both batteries and fuel cells are able to respond very fast to system load changes because they produce electricity by chemical reactions inside them. Their fast load-response capability can nicely support the sharp PV power variations resulted from weather changes.  However, there are subtle different attributes between batteries and fuel cells when they are applied to a PV power backup option. Power generation in fuel cell power plants is not limited by the Carnot Cycle, so they can meet high power conversion efficiency. Even taking into account the losses due to activation over potential and ohmic losses, the fuel cells still have high efficiencies from 40% to 60%. For example, efficiencies of PAFCs and MCFCs are 40-45% and 50-60% respectively. Battery power plants, however, themselves have high energy efficiency of nearly 80%, but the overall system efficiency from raw fuel through the batteries to the converted ac power is reduced to about 30%.

A battery’s terminal voltage gradually decreases as the battery discharges due to a proportional decrease of its current. A battery capacity reduces with increasing rate of discharge, so its full capacity cannot be used when it discharges at high rates. On the other hand, fuel cell power plants have equally high-efficiency at both partial and full loads. This feature allows the fuel cells to be able to follow a changing demand without losing efficiency. The limited storage capacity of batteries indicates that it is impossible for them to run beyond several hours. The batteries when fully discharged need several hours to be recharged.

For its use in PV power connections, it is as hard   to estimate the exact capacity of the batteries. In order to prevent the batteries’ deep discharge and to supplement the varying PV powers on some cloudy weather days, the battery capacity should be large, but that large capacity is not fully utilized on shiny days. For fuel cells, they do not contain such an operational time restriction as long as the fuel can be supplied. Thus, the fuel cell power plants can give operational flexibility with the operators in central control centers by utilizing them efficiently. As intermediate power generation sources, fuel cell power plants may replace coal-fired or nuclear units under forced outage or on maintenance. For the PV power backup the batteries’ discharge rate is irregular and their full capacity may usually not be consumed. So, it is difficult to design an ideal capacity of the battery systems for support of the PV power variations and to economically run them. Instead of batteries fuel cell power plants show diverse operational flexibility for either a PV power backup or a support of power system operation.

 

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PV solar is expanding as a potential renewable energy source for each house, and the cost of solar panels are slowly coming down as the volume of production increases. However, the intermittent nature of solar energy is still an issue, especially for off grid and remote locations. Now solar energy is stored using lead acid batteries for such applications and inverters become part of the system. The capacity of the battery bank is designed to meet the electrical demand and to absorb the fluctuation of the energy generated by solar panels and it varies from place to place. This method stores the electrical energy generated by PV solar in the form of DC current and delivers it in the form of AC current. Though this method is the simplest one for remote locations, storing solar power in the form of Hydrogen is more economical and environmentally friendly in the long run.

Solar energy can directly be used to generate Hydrogen using solid polymer electrolyzers and stored in cyclinders.The stored Hydrogen can then be used to fuel a stationary Fuel cell to generate power on site. One can design a system by integrating various components in such a way; the Hydrogen generated by solar energy is used to generate power on site as and when required. By this method one can generate required power throughout the day 24×7 irrespective of the availability of sun. The system integration involves various components supplied by various manufacturers with various specifications and the success of a system depends on the careful design using data acquired over a time on a specific location.

Many winds to Hydrogen projects also have been tested in locations around the world.NREL (National renewable energy laboratory, USA) has conducted number of tests by integrating various components such as PV solar and wind turbines with Electrolyzers (both PEM electroylzers and alkaline electrolyzers) and Hydrogen IC engines for remote power generation as well as for fuelling vehicles with Hydrogen. Though the cost of this system is still expensive, such integration offers enormous potential as a clean energy source for remote locations without any grid power. When one takes into account the fluctuating oil prices, cost of global warming, cost of power transmissions and losses during long distance power transmission from fossil fuel power plants, Renewable Hydrogen offers the best and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Such a system offers complete independence, energy security, reliability and fixed power tariff.

System integration of renewable energy sources for Hydrogen production and on site power generation using Fuel cell or Hydrogen engine is the key to a successful deployment of solar and wind energy for rural electrification and to remote islands. Such system will offer greater return on investment even to supply power to the grid based on power purchase agreements with Government and private companies. Renewable Hydrogen is the only practical solution for clean power of the future and sooner we embrace this integrated solution better for a cleaner future. Government and private companies investing on oil and gas explorations can focus their attention in developing renewable Hydrogen based solutions so that the cost of Hydrogen can become competitive to fossil fuel. Once the cost of Hydrogen reaches parity with cost of fossil fuel then, it will set the beginning of a green revolution in clean energy.

We  acknowledge that solar energy is a potential renewable energy source of the future. The total energy need of the world is projected in the next 40 years to be 30 TW (terra watts) and only solar energy has a potential to meet the above demand. However, harnessing sun’s energy to its fullest potential is still a long way to go. Concentrated solar power (CSP) offers a greater hope to fill this gap. The main reason is the cost  advantage of CSP compared to PV solar and energy storage technologies and their costs.

The cost of PV solar has steadily decreased in the past few years. Though the cost of solar cell has come down to $0.75 per watt, the overall cost of the PV system is still around $ 3.00 per watt. This is due to the cost of encapsulation; interconnect wiring, mounting of panels, inverters and battery bank. The overall cost of the system will not come down drastically beyond a point. This makes PV solar still more expensive compared to conventional power generation using fossil fuels. People can understand the value of renewable energy and impending dangers of global warming due to greenhouse gases, but the final cost of energy will decide the future of energy sources.

In PV solar the sun’s light energy is directly converted into Electricity, but storing such energy using batteries have certain limitations. PV solar is suitable for small-scale operations but it may not be cost-effective for large-scale base load power generation. The best option will be to harness the sun’s thermal energy and store them and use them to generate power using the conventional and established methods such as steam or gas turbines. Once we generate thermal energy of required capacity then we have number of technologies to harness them into  useful forms. As we mentioned earlier, the thermal energy can trigger a chemical reaction such as formation of Ammonia by reaction between Hydrogen and Nitrogen under pressure, which will release a large amount of thermal energy by exothermic reaction. Such heat can be used to generate steam to run a stem turbine to generate power. The resulting ammonia can be split with concentrated solar power (CSP) into Hydrogen and Nitrogen and the above process can be repeated.

The same system can also be used to split commercial Ammonia into Hydrogen and Nitrogen. The resulting Hydrogen can be separated and stored under pressure. This Hydrogen can be used to fuel Fuel cell cars such as Honda FXC or to generate small-scale power for homes and offices.

By using CSP, there is potential of cost savings as much as 70% compared to PV solar system for the same capacity power generation on a larger scale. Focusing sun’s energy using large diameter parabolic troughs and concentrators, one can generate high temperatures.  Dishes can typically vary in size and configuration from a small diameter of perhaps 1 meter to much larger structures of a dozen or more meters in diameter.  Point focus dish concentrators are mounted on tracking systems that track the sun in two axes, directly pointing at the sun, and the receiver is attached to the dish at the focal point so that as the dish moves, the receiver moves with it.  These point focus systems can generate high temperatures exceeding 800ºC and even 1,800ºC.

The temperature required to run a steam turbine does not exceed 290C and it is quite possible to store thermal energy using mixture of molten salts with high Eutectic points and use them to generate steam. Such large-scale energy storage using lead-acid batteries and power generation using PV solar may not be economical. But it will be economical and technically feasible to harness solar thermal energy using CSP for large-scale base load power generation. It is estimated that the cost of such CSP will compete with traditional power generation using coal or oil in the near future.CSP has potential to generate cost-effective clean power as well as a fuel for transportation.

Photovoltaic  solar energy  is becoming popular as a source of clean energy and an alternative to fossil fuels to combat climate change. Though the initial cost is expensive people have started realizing the potential of PV solar as  a real alternative to grid power, especially when they can export surplus power to the grid and earn some revenue. It is  a source of income for potential investors as the energy cost keeps rising steadily. The cost of solar panels, batteries and inverters are slowly coming down as the systems get more popular and more competition is created in the market. However, during cloudy days or when the solar hours are less, the power generation by solar panels is considerably low. Moreover, the ‘power in tariff ‘ system is not available in many countries especially in developing countries. Therefore, energy storage becomes an issue. Lead acid batteries serve as storage devices for smaller applications but it becomes expensive for lager systems. Operation and maintenance, replacement and waste disposal are some of the issues with battery storage.

Generating Hydrogen on site using solar power and storing Hydrogen under pressure in a tank is the best method of storing solar energy. The stored Hydrogen can be used to generate power using a Fuel cell as and when we need power. However, the amount of energy required to convert water into Hydrogen using Alkaline Electrolyzer or Solid Polymer Electrolyzer is still high, averaging 5-7 kwhrs/m3.When you calculate the economics of  Hydrogen storage versus battery storage using a computer modeling for a stand alone system, it is clear that Hydrogen storage is more economical and also guarantees an uninterrupted power supply using a Fuel cell.

One US company has developed a Carbon doped Titanium oxide nanopowder visible light photo catalyst to  generates Hydrogen using sun’s light energy. The company claims that it consumes only one-third of the power consumed by PEM Electrolyzer or half of an Alkaline Electrolyzer.It can be easily installed at roof tops and it can generate Hydrogen even at one-third of sunlight because it can effectively use short UV light and blue wave length of suns light because these energetic wavelengths penetrate cloud cover more effectively than the rest of sunlight. A 2mm modular solar panel can be installed on roof top or installed in multi-acre field installations. Even during the absence of sunlight the company claims it can use grid power to generate Hydrogen using its hybrid integral (MMO) Mixed metal oxide Titanium anode as efficiently as PEM Electrolyzer.

While a PEM electrolyzer generates about 1.3kg Hydrogen from a power input of 100Kwhrs, this model can generate about 2.5kg Hydrogen using MMO + TiO2 anode and about 3.8kg using TiO2 alone. (Based on higher heating value of Hydrogen at 39.4 kwhrs/kg).The panel consuming 26.7kwhr power at 1.0Volt DC current at Anode can generate 1.25kg Hydrogen with Electrolysis electrical efficiency at 148%.  This will make Hydrogen fuel a commercial reality because it will consume only 21.36 kwhrs of Dc power to generate 1 Kg Hydrogen. The generated Hydrogen can generate about 15 Kw power using a Fuel cell. This is an elegant solution to generate and store power using sun’s light than Photovoltaic power.

 Photovoltaic (PV) power is becoming popular worldwide as an alternative to grid power for various reasons. It gives an energy independence and freedom, it helps reduce greenhouse gas emission and combat global warming, it helps people taking advantage of various Government subsidies and incentives, and it also generates some revenue by selling surplus power back to the grid. At the end of the period you own the system and claim depreciation and some tax benefits. All these compelling factors may motivate people to opt for PV solar power. But you should also do some math and make a cost benefit analysis to choose a right system for you.

When there is a good sunshine day after day and throughout the year, PV solar is good proposition and can be really rewarding. Unfortunately that is not the reality. There may be many cloudy, rainy and fogging days in a year and your PV solar capacity may be overestimated or underestimated. You know the real data only after one or two years of life experience. It is a long-term financial and ethical decision one has to make and the decision should be absolutely right. You can make such a decision by carefully examining all the factors, not just by looking at the first cost but looking at operating and maintenance costs and all the costs and benefits associated with them.

Storage batteries are inevitable in PV solar systems, especially for grid independent systems. Even with grid connected PV solar system the design and installation of a correct battery bank, controllers and rectifier are important issues. In this article we will discuss about grid independent system because many developing countries in Africa and Asia do not have 24×7 uninterrupted grid power supplies. Many people living in islands have to manage their own power by using diesel generators. This is the stark reality.

Let us assume that you design a system assuming a daily average power consumption of 25,000 kwhrs/day, which is suitable even for a medium size family in US. We made an optimum design study between two  systems; first  containing PV solar,battery,controller for grid independent power supply; and second  system with PV solar, battery, water Electrolyzer,Hydrogen storage  and PEM Fuel cell and a rectifier for grid independent system,  based on the same power consumption of 25,000kwhrs/day. You can clearly see the difference between the two systems by the following data.This financial analysis was made assuming there is no Government subsidies and incentives.

Grid independent system with battery storage for 25,000kwhrs/day power:

Total NPV (net present value):$ 342,926

Levelized cost of energy: $2.94/kwhrs

Operating cost/yr: $22,764

Grid independent system with Hydrogen storage for 25,000kwhrs/day power:

Total NPV (net present value): $ 169,325

Levelized cost of energy : $ 1.452/kwhrs

Operating cost/yr: 8,330

The number of batteries required in the first case is 17 numbers. In the second case, number of batteries required is only 2.Obviously,  the levelized cost of power using  PV Hydrogen (storage) is less than 50% of the power generated using PV battery (storage) for the same energy consumption of 25,000kwhrs/day. The operating cost is only one-third for PV Hydrogen system compared to battery system. Batteries are indispensable in any renewable energy system but reducing their  numbers to the lowest level is important, when the life of the system varies from 25 years to 40 years. The numbers and the cost of batteries and their maintenance cost  will make all the difference.

 

Photovoltaic  solar industry has started expanding in recent years in US and Europe and the rest of the world also started following. Still solar energy is considered expensive in many parts of the world for various reasons. In most of these countries, energy is predominantly managed by Governments with age-old technologies and transmission systems. Coal is still the major fuel used for power generation and distribution and their infrastructures are old and inefficient. Transmission losses, power pilfering, subsidized power tariffs and even free power for farmers, are some of the issues that compounds the problems. Energy and water are considered more of social issues rather than business issues. For example in India, frequent power failures are common  and sometimes people do not have power even up to 8 to 12 hours  a day, especially  in country sides. Standby diesel generators are integral part of an industry or business. The heavily subsidized power supply by Government from coal-fired power plants is  underrated. The average power tariff in India is still less than $0.07/kwhr.But the reality is they will be using diesel generated power for equal several hours in a day  and the cost of diesel power varies from  $0.24 up to $0.36/kwhrs, almost in par with solar power. The average power cost will amount to $0.18 to $0.20 /kwhrs.

Any slight increase  in oil price will have a dramatic effect in energy cost in India and their balance of payment situation.Governments are in a precarious situation and they have to make a balancing act between subsidizing the energy cost and winning the elections. They often subsidize the power resulting in heavy revenue losses for Government run electricity boards. Most of the electricity boards in India are in red. People are used to low power tariffs for several decades and any increase in the tariff will make the Government unpopular. Greenhouse effect and global warming are secondary issues. With an average economic growth rate at 7% year after year, their energy requirements have gone up substantially. They may need several hundred thousands of MW power in the next 5 to 10 years. They have opened up energy sector to private only in recent years.

Renewable energy industry is relatively new and there are very few large commercial-scale solar and wind power plants in India. Majority of residents and businesses cannot afford high cost of PV solar installation. Even if they install, there is no ‘power- in tariff’ mechanism by Government where consumers can export surplus energy at a higher tariff to the grid. With current power failures lasting 8-12 hours/day, such mechanisms will have no value. The situation is the same in many Asian countries.

The solar panel costs are high due to lack of local production of silicon wafers, batteries and inverters and most of them are still imported. State electricity boards do not have funds to buy power at higher tariffs. Import duties and taxes on imported components are still high making renewable industries uncompetitive against cheap coal-fired,  subsidized power cost of $0.07/kwhrs .India requires massive investment on renewable energy industries. But most of the power projects which are under planning stage or under implementation are based on either coal or oil or LNG.There is no sign that India will soon become a major player in renewable energy.

In PV solar projects, the cost of storage batteries are higher than the solar panel during the life cycle of 25 years. If the life of a battery is 8 years then you will need 3 batteries during the life cycle. For example, if you use 100 watts solar panel with a life span of 20 years, the initial cost of solar panel may be $300 which will generate an average power of 140 watt.hrs /day. If you plan to store 5 days energy using a battery, you will enquire 5x 140= 700 watt.hrs battery, costing about $175.If you have to replace batteries 3 times during the life span of 20 years then the cost of battery is 3×175= $525.You have to add operation and maintenance cost, in addition to it. Therefore, your investment on batteries is 1.75 times more than solar panels. This cost will substantially add up to your energy cost.

In most of the Asian countries where they cannot export surplus power to the grid, they have to rely only on batteries. This high cost of stored energy is not remunerative because they cannot export this surplus to the grid at a higher tariff. This situation is not likely to change at least in the short-term.

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