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$25M Bounty Offered for Global Warming Fix 766

Posted by Zonk
from the bring-me-the-head-of-global-warming dept.
SaDan writes "Richard Branson is offering $25M as a bounty for a fix to global warming. The person or organization that can devise a method to remove at least a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere will be able to claim the bounty. There are a few catches, of course. There can't be any negative impact on the environment, and the payment will come in chunks. A 5 million dollar payout will be paid when the system is put into place with the remainder of the bounty to be paid after 10 years of continuous use."
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$25M Bounty Offered for Global Warming Fix

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  • Plant Respiration (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gbulmash (688770) * <.semi_famous. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:40PM (#17954574) Homepage Journal
    How much carbon dioxide does a single tree consume in a year of respiration and how many trees could be planted for $25 million?

    Either that or find a way to build large scale air scrubbers that simulate plant respiration (stripping the carbon atom off a CO2 molecule and releasing O2), then compress the pure carbon into bricks for use in industry. If it could be done cheaply enough it might not just be eco-friendly, but profitable as well, with the $25 million payment as a bonus.

    - Greg
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by xtracto (837672)
      Either that or find a way to build large scale air scrubbers that simulate plant respiration (stripping the carbon atom off a CO2 molecule and releasing O2), then compress the pure carbon into bricks for use in industry. If it could be done cheaply enough it might not just be eco-friendly, but profitable as well, with the $25 million payment as a bonus.

      That is something I have always thought since I was a little kid. Humans do this kind of thing *every* day. Every "invention" we have is a revised,accelerate
      • I'm sure we could (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:53PM (#17954900)
        But it would require energy. The whole reason hydrocarbons are a good source of energy is precisely because the C + O2 -> CO2 reaction gives off energy. So to make it go the other way, you need input energy. Plants get it from the sun, where would we get it from. Then, of course, assuming you have a source the question is why not just cut the middle man and use that source directly?
        • Re:I'm sure we could (Score:5, Interesting)

          by yog (19073) * on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:51PM (#17957038) Homepage Journal
          Put a couple thousand square miles of solar cells out in the desert, and for every megawatt they generate, reduce coal/gas/oil energy production by that much.

          Install wind generators up and down the coast, and similarly replace coal.

          Use some of this energy to create hydrogen from coal, and use that to power automotive fuel cells.

          Mandate (and pay for) bicycle lanes on every thoroughfare in every city. Offer health insurance discounts to people who bike to work most of the time. Make biking a safe, cheap, and convenient way to travel and people will use it.

          Implement modern, safer nuclear technology. Rocket the waste into the Sun, or maybe dump it on the Moon or a passing asteroid.

          Create solar powered ozone production plants with 5-mile-high smokestacks to replenish the earth's O3 layer.

          How do we pay for all this? Halt the war in Iraq, and use the hundreds of billions we save from that. Also, exploit space; send robot mining ships to obtain 10000-ton platinum and gold asteroids and the like; one or two of these will pay for everything.
    • by eln (21727) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:47PM (#17954712) Homepage
      Trees alone won't solve the problem for the same reason they aren't solving the problem now: people keep cutting them down.

      We cannot possible reserve all of the arable land necessary to plant enough trees to scrub the carbon dioxide we are throwing into the atmosphere, because we need that land for other purposes. As the human population continues to grow, the need for developed land increases. This trend is not likely to reverse itself.

      A carbon scrubbing solution that would actually be workable would have to take up much less space than trees would to produce the same result.

      • by PFI_Optix (936301) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:14PM (#17955378) Journal
        One word:

        algae.

        It's been suggested that some of our simplest consumers of CO2 are also the most efficient. A modified algae that would flourish in parts of the ocean where it is sparse today would tie up a lot of lose carbon and ultimately send it sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
        • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:4, Interesting)

          by stratjakt (596332) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:28PM (#17955718) Journal
          Algae goes wild when you dump fertilizers in a stream, and can utterly choke off all life in a river or lake. I'd be very very wary about any plans to grow it "en masse" in the ocean, seems like the type of thing that'd easily get away from you.
      • by drix (4602) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:59PM (#17956254) Homepage
        Or we could just plant fewer humans...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by olyar (591892)
      The technology is there to do the scrubbing, the issue is more how do you do that process without using a whole lot of energy to do it? And of course, that energy has to come from a plant somewhere that is putting CO2 back into the atmosphere...

      Ideally, you'd run the process on solar energy I suppose. Hmm... an air scrubber that runs on solar energy.

      Sounds suspiciously like a tree!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      How much carbon dioxide does a single tree consume in a year of respiration and how many trees could be planted for $25 million?

      - Depends on the trees. I'm no expert but I'll bet $25 million worth of any plant is going to consume far far less than a billion metric tonnes of CO2. Plus you don't plant wholly grown trees so you've got to wait however many years for them to mature before getting the real benefit - time we don't have. Also, planting $25 million worth of trees would most likely be considered eco-unfriendly since you'd need to find a pretty huge amount of space that isn't already developed - meaning that presumably you'd

    • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:28PM (#17955728) Journal

      C'mon, $25 million is nothing compared to something like global warming. If global warming could really be solved for $25 million someone would have done it by now. Al Gore spent more than $25 million on his presidential campaign. You think maybe he would have gotten more publicity if he instead chose to spend the money solving global warming? The petroleum industry probably spends way more than $25 million a year lobbying against Kyoto. Surely if they could make Kyoto moot by solving the problem of global warming they'd do that instead. There are probably single beachfront homes that are worth $25 million. If the problem could be solved that cheaply, surely one of those homeowners would have made it happen. There are hundreds of billionaires in the United States. $25 million would be a drop in the bucket to solve one of the biggest problems of our lifetime.

      $25 million, to solve global warming, is a joke.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SiliconEntity (448450)
        "C'mon, $25 million is nothing compared to something like global warming. If global warming could really be solved for $25 million someone would have done it by now."

        Not necessarily. You can't make money by solving global warming because there is no one who will pay you for your technology. The benefits from reducing CO2 are spread out among everyone on earth and are too diffuse for conventional market rewards.

        Only if we create a global system for carbon credit trading, or apply mandates to force people to
      • by skelly33 (891182) on Friday February 09, 2007 @08:12PM (#17957246)
        But you think $10M was enough to put Scaled Composites' Spaceship One into LEO? It's a token offering to inspire the imagination. Don't knock a generous and genuine offer just because you have not been inspired.
    • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:5, Interesting)

      by reverseengineer (580922) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:45PM (#17956946)
      Warning: back-of-envelope calculations follow. The bond energy of the two carbon-oxygen double bonds in carbon dioxide is about 374 kilocalories per mole of carbon dioxide. At 44 grams CO2 to a mole, a billion tons of carbon dioxide (using 1000kg=ton) is on the order of 2x10^13 moles. This would require 3x10^13 megajoules of energy, which to provide in one year (31556926 seconds) would demand 950 gigawatts of power, which will undoubtedly require more than 25 million dollars to generate. This assumes perfect efficiency in the process, of course, and does not factor in any carbon dioxide released in the generation of that much power.

      The reason this process works so well in plants is that frankly, that's not how it works in plants at all. While photosynthesis involves the net breakdown of carbon dioxide and water to form oxygen and glucose, it's a complex set of separate, but connected reactions, rather than just using sunlight to blast oxygen atoms off carbon dioxide. For instance, the oxygen produced doesn't come from carbon dioxide- it comes from water split by sunlight, with the help of an enzyme. The carbon dioxide that enters plants is never actually split apart- it's simply fixed into an organic molecule, and used to generate a glucose precursor. Breaking down carbon dioxide to its component elements is simply too energy intensive.

      I suppose that's an idea though- if there were a catalyst that could fix carbon dioxide into an organic molecule, and do so at reasonable conditions of temperature and pressure, it might provide a useful way of recycling carbon. For example, if you could react carbon dioxide with methane to produce acetic acid, you could pull two greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and use them to make an industrial product (and one which could be conceivably then be used as a feedstock for plastics and fuels). Currently, this process uses carbon monoxide and methanol (made from steam reforming of methane, actually), in the presence of a metal catalyst- it seems like it could be done with CO2 and methane instead. Even if the economics might not be as favorable, the benefit in sequestering greenhouse gases might be worth it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Apu (325126)

        I suppose that's an idea though- if there were a catalyst that could fix carbon dioxide into an organic molecule, and do so at reasonable conditions of temperature and pressure, it might provide a useful way of recycling carbon. For example, if you could react carbon dioxide with methane to produce acetic acid, you could pull two greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and use them to make an industrial product (and one which could be conceivably then be used as a feedstock for plastics and fuels). Currently, this process uses carbon monoxide and methanol (made from steam reforming of methane, actually), in the presence of a metal catalyst- it seems like it could be done with CO2 and methane instead. Even if the economics might not be as favorable, the benefit in sequestering greenhouse gases might be worth it.

        Question... Did you think of this idea before the back of envelopes calculations or after? Because, if after, than the bounty is already doing its thing. Whether or not your particular idea is really feasible isn't the key -- as others have pointed out, it would probably take more money to make sure every idea was really feasible. The bounty is making people think of things they didn't think about before and imagine the possibilities. "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mdsolar (1045926)
        The prize conditions do mention that the carbon has to be kept out of the atmosphere for 1000 years, so if you make a useful product, you've got to be sure that it is not useful in a way that it goes back into the atmopshere. Fuel is out, some plastics which degrade are out too. For long term storage, mineralization looks good: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/300 / 5626/1677 [sciencemag.org] though not terribly useful. Need to read whole article so this might send you to the library. It might be better to pu
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jfern (115937)
      Not going to work AEP has planted 21,914 acres with nearly 19 million mixed hardwood and conifer trees at a cost of approximately $5.7 million. Projected CO2 sequestration is 4.7 million metric tons over the term of the project. Link [e8.org]
  • by User 956 (568564) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:41PM (#17954584) Homepage
    All we need to do is drop a large ice cube in the ocean every now and then. Thereby solving the problem.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ForestGrump (644805)
      And since water is most dense at 4deg C, the sea level will rise!

      Grump, Environmental Scientist.
      Yes, I really have a real degree in this field.
  • by andy314159pi (787550) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:42PM (#17954612) Journal
    It's called an air-conditioner. Duh.


    Yes, Martha, I'm fully aware that the Carnot cycle shows that air conditioners cause a net heating of the environment when the heat dump and the cold reservoir are summed. That is to say the above is a joke.
  • by dotmax (642602) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:44PM (#17954636)
    Why, that's just ~32 tons of CO2 per second. Piece of cake.
    • by acidrain (35064)

      Why, that's just ~32 tons of CO2 per second. Piece of cake.

      And that 5 million is 0.05c per ton if you are using it to meet the requirements for the first 10 years. 5 or even 25 million is pocket change for large industrial projects, this story is a joke. I might take the 25 million to build an apartment block, but not save the world.

    • Since he is English maybe he means a billion [wikipedia.org] (10^12) tons? Then it would be 32,000 tons a second.

  • by FreemanPatrickHenry (317847) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:45PM (#17954678)
    Global warming? What is that, some new street drug? And $25M for one shot? Crazy...
  • After all, I'm sure that a human can take care of the earth better than Mother Nature can.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It is our mission to defeat Mother Nature in her attempt to wipe us out.
    • Re:Mother Nature (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:53PM (#17954896) Homepage Journal

      After all, I'm sure that a human can take care of the earth better than Mother Nature can.

      Mother nature's solution to global warming operates on a geologic timescale and will not help us. In fact since if we leave the situation unchecked things will get worse before they get better, the earth will probably demonstrate its lack of use for us in the meantime.

  • My paypal is welcometothefifties@timetobuildthem.com.
    • by pashdown (124942)
      How are you going to mine, refine, clean-up then store/recycle your fuel without emitting CO2? Fission proponents seem to believe that uranium magically appears on your doorstep then disappears when you're done.
  • The problem isn't coming up with a way to do it, it's getting people to buy into it. There are lots of ways to cut down on our use of fossil fuels (nuclear, space-based solar, etc.) and there are lots of ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere (though most if not all of the best ones involve plants and sunlight). But we have a huge culture/industry built around the notion of burning fossil fuels and that isn't going away any time soon. Given that they are willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people

  • Trees....lots of trees.
    Solar powered. Self-sustaining, self-propagating...pretty much self-everything.

    It's pretty obvious to do any carbon dioxide scrubbing on a large scale, it's going to require a process that requires as little artificially-induced energy input as possible.

    How about large saltwater algae beds in arid regions adjacent to the ocean? Harvest the algae, press out the plant oil, and make biodiesel. Algae is probably the most efficient crop for something like this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Derek Pomery (2028)
      Biodiesel is most definitely not taking a billion tons out of the cycle since you're just burning it again.

      Trees will do this, but you'd need a hell of a lot of trees, since you have to compensate for the amount that gets released back when they die, lose leaves, get cut down and burnt, etc.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_sequestration# Forests_2 [wikipedia.org]
      "one million of these trees will fix 0.9 teragrams of carbon dioxide" wikipedia claims this figure as over a 40 year lifespan.
      Using that as a WAG (and assuming
  • Easy but hard. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`moc.liamg' `ta' `yppupcinataS'> on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:51PM (#17954808) Journal
    Carbon sequestration is relatively easy. Plant more trees, create artificial algae blooms...Anything green and growing will take in a lot of carbon. There have been studies recently dealing with certain types of pine trees that even suggest that the trees are growing faster in the higher CO2 environment we're making for them, which suggests that natural processes will step up to take advantage of the carbon rich environment.

    The problem is, all these solutions are geologically short term, and they're not as space-efficient as say, coal. Forests catch fire, algae blooms sink to the bottom (which is good) but are bad bad bad for the water ecosystem in which they're created, and everything else gets used and processed.

    Basically, we're screwed on a quick fix until someone bio-engineers us some quick growing trees that sequester so much carbon that they're shiny. The best solution is to reduce our output of carbon, and allow the carbon cycle to re-balance itself.

    In the meantime, if you're wondering whether to take up snow skiing or water skiing, might want to go water.
  • by Anon-Admin (443764) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:52PM (#17954852) Homepage Journal
    It is in the top 10 for CO2 fixation! It has over 25,000 uses of which smoking it is just 1!

    We can make cloths, shoes, rope, cardboard, paper, and other goods from the fibers.
    We can make bread, cooking oil, ethanol, bio diesel, and bird food from the seeds.
    We can smoke the buds to relax.

    Problem solved! We just plant it everywhere! Along the roads, in the unused fields, around the government buildings, just everywhere. No more global warming!

    Interesting how the CO2 levels started to rise just after the government banned growing it!

    We can also reduce the "War on Drugs" budget and redirect it to research on global warming. There is an instant $6,000,000,000 per year to find alternate energy sources. :)

    Problem solved, now take that $25,000,000 prize and give it to the Marc Emery defiance fund. [cannabisculture.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by stratjakt (596332)
      The "war on drugs" budget is small, the DEA is almost entirely funded by "civil forfeiture", the completely fair idea that if you are caught selling a bag of pot, then everything you own (car, house, photo album handed down from grandma) must have been the proceeds of your drug dealing, and deserve to be taken away and auctioned. Even if falsely accused, and acquitted, getting it back is nearly impossible.

      But, people watched "Scarface" in the 80s, and said "WOW thats how drug dealers live? ferrari's and m
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Peter Trepan (572016)

      Interesting how the CO2 levels started to rise just after the government banned growing it!

      I thought it was due to a decrease in the number of pirates [wikipedia.org].

      Seriously, dude. Arguments about global warming and scratchy hemp shirts aren't nearly as good as the argument that it's just none of anyone's damn business what you smoke.

  • Irony of it all (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gilesjuk (604902) <giles,jones&zen,co,uk> on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:53PM (#17954876)
    Richard Branson owns an airline, if he wants he could reduce co2 by a large amount by changing his business.

    Of course if he pulls out of the market then others take his place.
  • Easy (Score:2, Redundant)

    by spyrral (162842)
    Stop burning fossil fuels.

    Where's my 25 million?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Intron (870560)
      The effect on global warming of burning forests is greater than from burning fossil fuels. So let's stop burning forests in South America and Indonesia. The best way would be to cancel the economic incentives which promote burning -- which is mostly using the cleared land for other cash crops or for grazing. Another way would be to clear the land, but not burn the biomass. Use it for making paper, wooden items, buildings, etc.
  • Nuclear bomb (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ALimoges (870872)
    Dropping a nuclear bomb every once in a while on a large cosmopolitan city would definitely do the job...
  • by zmollusc (763634) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:55PM (#17954944)
    Simply declare co2 to be the worlds currency and pretty soon it will all be safely locked away in swiss vaults.
  • One of the best ideas I have seen is algae for biodiesel [energytower.org] with charcoal production from the waste. The charcoal holds the carbon for a long period and is at worst case neutral spread on agricultural land and has some potential to be beneficial [bidstrup.com].

    There were a lot of studies on the idea in the '80's by the DOE [energy.gov], but it was shelved due to low oil prices at the time.

  • by FinchWorld (845331) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:57PM (#17954986) Homepage
    Eat the homeless, now we have enough housing. Eat criminals, no more over full jails, possible drop in crime rates. Eat everyone who live in a house with an odd number, halfing amount of cars on the road. And with all that eating we solve third world hunger too.
  • Do I win $25 million..?
  • by Pollux (102520) <<ge.ten.atadet> <ta> <reteps>> on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:01PM (#17955088) Journal
    The person or organization that can devise a method to remove at least a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere will be able to claim the bounty. There are a few catches, of course. There can't be any negative impact on the environment.

    That's like asking a baker to take all that unhealthy fat out of a doughnut, but not have it have any impact on the taste. It would be foolish of Branson to think that you can make a dramatic change to the chemical makeup of our atmosphere, but not have any "negative" consequences. Plants need CO2, so removing it from the atmosphere might harm plant life. Temperatures will decrease (probably), and I'm sure that there's at least some species of wildlife that's now thriving with the warmer temperatures. Wind paterns will change. Climate patterns will change. To expect absolutely no "negative impact" on the environment is foolhardy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ambitwistor (1041236)
      Taking a billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year isn't going to be drastically bad, since that's still significantly less than what we put in every year. Even if we halted CO2 emissions entirely, that's still not worse than pre-industrial times when we weren't putting large amounts in.

      You are at least half right though: too much change too suddenly can have negative impacts. What would be the impact of instantaneously cutting CO2 emissions to zero tomorrow? Maybe still not that bad. Reduci
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DaveJay (133437)
      That's like asking a baker to take all that unhealthy fat out of a doughnut, but not have it have any impact on the taste. It would be foolish of Branson to think that you can make a dramatic change to the chemical makeup of our atmosphere, but not have any "negative" consequences. Plants need CO2, so removing it from the atmosphere might harm plant life. Temperatures will decrease (probably), and I'm sure that there's at least some species of wildlife that's now thriving with the warmer temperatures. Wind
  • by viking80 (697716) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:03PM (#17955132) Journal
    Running out of oil will do this quite effectively, and that will happen within not too many years.

  • by shoolz (752000) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:13PM (#17955346) Homepage
    My method doesn't actually remove 1 billion pounds, rather it prevents that 1 billion from being released. I cannot talk about all the details until the patent is filed, but let's just say it involves Rush Limbaugh and a really large cork.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by edwardpickman (965122)
      It would also remove a substantial amount of atmospheric heat that is released with the CO2. Might I suggest adding a second cork to prevent the release of methane which is even a worse greenhouse gas than CO2.
  • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:13PM (#17955360)
    This is definitely a Catch-22.

    It has to do something, thereby increasing entropy, and at the same not create adverse affects. What constitutes an adverse affect? Does contributing to the heat death of the universe?

    Ok, perhaps just looking at entropy is a little extreme. I'm sure that's not actually written in the rules, and apparently there actually is some sort of judging involved here (oh look, Al Gore is a judge. Big surprise. "I took the initiative in solving global warming..."), but Branson's asking for a miracle here. Any work is going to require energy. If you don't just want to suck that billion tons CO2 out and store it somewhere, but actually break it down into more containable form, like graphite or useful hydrocarbons, it will take a lot more energy. This is effectively the same energy issue we've been flogging death for years, but in the guise of removing CO2, instead of avoiding creating it or just plain getting energy in the first place.

    As Slashdot has been debating since...um, forever...every energy source we can come up with has adverse affects, not the least of which is cost. I don't know how much energy it takes per ton to filter CO2 out of the air and bury it in an abandoned gas well, but I would bet we're talking several orders of magnitude above the prize level just in energy costs. Not such concerns means much compared to "saving the planet" (TM), but that effectively makes the prize only a formality.

    Beyond cost, there's also environmental affects with energy generation. Be it birds struck by wind turbine blades or disposal of the composites they're made out of at end-of-life, the chemicals used in making solar cells, nuclear waste, disrupted fish runs with hydroplants, altered ocean habitats for tidal solutions, possibly altered fault activity and limited supply from geothermal, and of course that practically irrelevant but still amusing increase of entropy problem from all of the above, they are there.

    I'm not sure if the story should be flagged Catch-22, vaporware, or inthishouseweobeythelawsofthermodynamics.
  • Ridiculous PR Stunt (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mpapet (761907) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:08PM (#17956418) Homepage
    It's been a while since I've done these calculations, but I think the present value of the so-called $25 million bounty is $6.2 million with the payment schedule given. That's what $25 million with the payments laid out as proposed is worth today at 4% return.

    We don't pay anyone already producing lots of oxygen with their undeveloped lands, why would anyone buy the earth-saving properties of the as-yet unmade device?

    Not only is the bounty $6.2 million, but the innovator doesn't appear to have any kind of way to sustain the earth-saving properities of this device.

    This is an example of why we are in what most indicators suggest is a global warming scenario of our own making.

    Despite what the popular political opinion attempts to have us believe, So-called "Free-markets" do not accomodate the health and general well-being of humans or their environment.

    Discuss amongst yourselves

  • by denis-The-menace (471988) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:26PM (#17958948)

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.11/ecohacking .html [wired.com]

    "Ecohacker Michael Markels claims he has a megafix for global warming: Supercharge the growth of ocean plankton with vitamin Fe and let a zillion CO2 scrubbers bloom."

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