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Power Transportation Technology

Solar Roadways Get DoT Funding 484

Posted by Soulskill
from the technology-that-wouldn't-work-in-michigan dept.
mikee805 writes "Solar Roadways, a project to replace over 25,000 square miles of road in the US with solar panels you can drive on, just received $100,000 in funding from the Department of Transportation for the first 12ft-by-12ft prototype panel. Each panel consists of three layers: a base layer with data and power cables running through it, an electronics layer with an array of LEDs, solar collectors and capacitors, and finally the glass road surface. With data and power cables, the solar roadway has the potential to replace some of our aging infrastructure. With only 15% efficiency, 25,000 square miles of solar roadways could produce three times what the US uses annually in energy. The building costs are estimated to be competitive with traditional roads, and the solar roads would heat themselves in the winter to keep snow from accumulating."
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Solar Roadways Get DoT Funding

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  • Oh, get real. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:02PM (#29238803) Journal

    Solid concrete and asphalt get ripped apart in short order by the combination of weather and heavy vehicle traffic, and they propose to use solar panels to drive on? I'd say it's a bold engineering project, but it's gone beyond "bold", past "insane", past "so crazy it might work", and right into "let's see if we can get dumb ideas paid for if we call 'em green".

  • by davidwr (791652) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:02PM (#29238805) Homepage Journal

    Ok, that's probably overstating it.

    This probably is doable, but I think we are years if not decades away from it being cost-effective.

    Besides, if you've seen the wear and tear, potholes, and cracks in roads around here you'd know things are rarely as easy in the field as they are in the lab.

  • yeah right (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Brian Gordon (987471) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:02PM (#29238807)

    With only 15% efficiency, 25,000 square miles of solar roadways could produce three times what the US uses annually in energy

    25 thousand square miles of solar panels? I laughed out loud at that being considered a plausible solution to the energy crisis. You could power the entire world with the amount of money that would cost, using cheaper power like hydroelectric/wind. Also it would cost a fortune to maintain. Also why do they have to make roads out of them.. where did that come from? Just put them out on land somewhere, you don't have to drive all over them.

  • by SirCowMan (1309199) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:11PM (#29238859)
    Glass? That can not be safe, the grip issues alone would preclude it. One good jack-knife, and shards of road all over the place sounds pretty dangerous too. The biggest hang-up here is certainly not cost, but safety.
  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:12PM (#29238865)
    Well, if nobody does the work then it'll definitely never happen. I'm sure if somebody had told Newton about this wonderful thing called Nuclear energy he'd've laughed in their face. Likewise, I can't imagine anybody of that era seriously believing that we'd have the internet.

    The belief that it's not possible is just plain silly, it's not possible with today's technology, but there isn't really any inherent reason why it couldn't be done at some future date. Provided the funding and the future date is far enough off. On paper it's not that difficult of a problem, just put some super tough clear material over the top of the cells and you've dealt with the wear and tear, and solar cells tend to warm up as they receive light so the amount of damage from winter is less. And winter is when most of the damage is done by the weather, the cooling and heating isn't good for it.

    In practice it's going to be difficult to find suitable materials, but you're definitely not going to succeed if you don't try, and the roads tend to be pretty exposed anyways. It's also great for small communities located along the interstates. And presumably it would pay for a lot of the cost of upkeep on our roads.
  • by schnikies79 (788746) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:12PM (#29238867)

    Road surfaces? You mean the same ones that get demolished every winter because of plows?

    I was going to make more of a point, but I'm not going to bother...

  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:13PM (#29238873)

    You're not looking deep enough. Out of this sort of funding, the main project (roadways) is most likely a throwaway. However, there is a good chance the people that develop this type of system might stumble upon a new material, process, etc. So it might not be a waste of money. I'm an optimist though.

  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brian Gordon (987471) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:17PM (#29238885)

    just put some super tough clear material over the top of the cells and you've dealt with the wear and tear

    Another laugh out loud moment. This thread delivers.

    I imagine you going to the materials engineer on retainer for your states DoT. "I noticed we're spending $30 million a year resurfacing roads. Send a little of that my way and we can solve that problem. My idea is to put a super tough material over the top and we'll have dealt with the wear and tear."

  • Re:yeah right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by negRo_slim (636783) <mils_oRgen@hotmail.com> on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:20PM (#29238909)

    Also why do they have to make roads out of them.. where did that come from? Just put them out on land somewhere, you don't have to drive all over them.

    Yes let's go tear up what's left of arable land and natural habitat for our never ending thirst for energy. People will point to the desert as if it's some vast lifeless tract of land. Which is simply not the case.

  • A dumb argument (Score:4, Insightful)

    by copponex (13876) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:43PM (#29239049) Homepage

    There are multiple solutions to the problems you suggest, but I don't even have to mention them, because others have already.

    The real problem is that you fail to understand that solutions can be found if you aren't too lazy to look for them. Yes, if the people who designed this system are absolute morons, they may have forgotten that trucks exist and are heavy. The difference between that group and you is that they are actually doing something instead of arriving at a problem, scratching their pits like their primate ancestors, and going back to throwing shit at a tree, or speculating on the NFL draft, or arguing with some lonely basement dwellers on a Friday night on the internet.

    Am I doing anything particularly important or positive? No.

    Am I therefore going to endlessly criticize those who are trying to solve it for me? Of course not. I'm glad they're working on the problem, and will be happy to benefit from it if they're successful. I'll even gladly give more money to projects like this out of my tax dollars, instead of wasting them to build F-22s at 3,000x the cost.

    Fortunately for their team, real scientists and engineers will constructively examine his project and be very critical of it. Since they aren't like you, and will continue to look for a solution instead of giving up at each impasse, they will have a better product in the end. Even if the project totally fails, they may provide useful information to others who are also trying to come up with solutions to similar problems. This is the beauty of the scientific method. Please take your ape brain elsewhere.

  • Re:A dumb argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jtorkbob (885054) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:04PM (#29239195) Homepage

    There is this thing, though, called snake oil. Politicians love it, these days even more so when it's 'Green Snake Oil'.

  • Re:A dumb argument (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <jcr@NOsPAM.mac.com> on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:06PM (#29239205) Journal

    I'll even gladly give more money to projects like this out of my tax dollars, instead of wasting them to build F-22s at 3,000x the cost.

    How about if you kept those dollars yourself, and spent them or saved them as you saw fit for your own purposes, instead of the government making those choices for you? Buy solar panels if you like.

    -jcr

  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brusk (135896) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:14PM (#29239269)
    What about the middle of the night, when there's much less traffic?
  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:23PM (#29239327)

    My favorite part is that the "roads will heat themselves in the winter". This one has me rolling on the floor. There is not enough energy in the system to do that.

    - Roads in wintry areas are asphalt
    - Asphalt is dark
    - Most of the incident sunlight on asphalt roads gets converted to heat
    - All that sunpower can't keep the roads above freezing.

    Light->Electricity->Heat won't give you more than Light->Heat already does. This is grade school science. These clowns are selling solar-powered flashlights.

  • Re:Huge problems (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:27PM (#29239357) Homepage Journal

    Pricing is supposed to be competitive with concrete and asphalt? You just roll that shit down and it dries.

    Snicker, snicker snort. Says someone who knows nothing about concrete or asphalt, obviously.

  • by H0p313ss (811249) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:40PM (#29239423)

    OK, even the SUMMARY contains a sentence that says the roads wouldn't need plowing in the winter because they heat themselves to automatically melt any snow accumulation.

    I strongly suspect the author of that statement have never seen a cold day in Minneapolis or Ottawa... where the temperature dips almost to -30 at night... and you don't see the sun for days.

  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:46PM (#29239475)

    Ironically, common, ordinary glass is a VERY VERY durable roadway surface which admits light. Anything thicker than 6 inches, and supported by compacted earth underneath, would EASILY handle the weight of a vehicle driving over it. The problem that glass has is that it has a very low reflexive modulus, meaning that it doesnt take tortion or bending stress very well at all. (It shatters.) This makes it a poor choice as a structural material for buildings, other than as the outer shell, where it's strong resistance to weathering suppliments the high reflexive moduluous of steel girders.

    For a roadway, it would work very well. The problem would be people with sledge hammers being knob-gobblers, and damaging roadways-- and other bone headed "Lets drop a super heavy object on the roadway and see what happens" kinds of faux-pas. (Dropping the great big industrial dumpster on the glass roadway would be a no-no.)

    I suggest glass over say-- recycled polycarbonate plastic (Recycled water bottles) because the former does not decay on exposure to UV light, does not leak Bisphenol-A into the ground water, is not flammable, and doesnt produce toxically accumulating microparticles from surface abrasion that gets washed out into the ocean.

    Now-- That said-- there WOULD be problems with a glass roadway.

    1) It tends to be rather slick when it leaves the factory, especially if you want it to admit light well. (Solutions might be to dimple the surface, or to make it "rough" with rounded bumps on the surface, which would actually allow it to admit and trap more light internally-- however, then it would harbor dirt, roadkill residue, snow, snow control sand/gravel/salt, and any other "able to be ground into a surface" materials, which would inhibit the solar pannel functionality.

    2) The energy costs in creating that much glass. This might not be such a problem though-- there are similar energy expenditures in the creation of concrete. (Both require kiln operation.)

    3) "Sharp particles" being produced by people being retards, and doing things to the road that one realy shouldnt do. (Like do a high speed chase on flat tires, and subsequently driving on rims, or dragging a turned over trailer down the road because you got drunk when you were at the lake-- etc.)

    4) Some other consequence I havent thought of yet.

    But, for the record-- the main reason we use asphalt as a roadway surface is because it makes a convenient place to deposit oil refinery waste. (Asphalt is a refinery biproduct from crude oil-- essentially crude oil solids.) Other nice things about are is that it doesnt rot, it self-repairs to a limited extent, can be poured/pressed into place, and makes a nice gripping surface.

    If we stop using fossil fuels as an energy source, we wont have a ready supply of asphault to resurface roadways with either-- so researching alternative roadway surfacing materials is a must if we are to move away from this doomed energy source.

  • roofing instead (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dickens (31040) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:59PM (#29239563) Homepage

    Asphalt roofing (what we use in the north here) only lasts 20 years or so. If you could make plastic roofing with built-in solar cells it could work, financially. A big subsidy for use in new construction would get the factories running. Then a smaller subsidy for upgrades and it could become the norm. Seems obvious to me, anyway.

    Yeah, you'd have to heat it to keep the snow off just like the roads.

  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:15AM (#29239657) Homepage

    Yeah, I don't see that happening.

    And why not? Sun = 1000W/m^2, decreased by angles, obstructions, night, etc. Let's say 8kWh/day/m^2 on a clear stretch of road. That's 6.88Mcal/day/m^2. Latent heat for melting ice is 80 cal/g and temperature raising is 1cal/g/C, so 10C temperature rise and melting is 76.4kg snow per day at 100% efficiency. Snow is about 100kg/m^3, so that's .764m^3 per m^2 per day, or 2 1/2 feet per day.

    Now, obviously, efficiency isn't 100%. Solar cell efficiency is about 15% in this application. However, the "waste heat" isn't exactly waste; it's heating up the road. Now, it radiates away instead of being stored, but what's there is useful. Anyone who lives in a northern clime can tell you how the first snow after a warm period tends not to stick well. And even the 15% solar efficiency -- call it 12% after grid and storage losses -- times 2 1/2 feet is 4 inches of snow per day, or 27 feet of snow per winter.

    What, you think nobody bothered to check the numbers before issuing the grant?

  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nitroamos (261075) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:37AM (#29239801)

    "let's see if we can get dumb ideas paid for if we call 'em green".

    Look... they were given $100,000, which is a TINY amount of money when it comes down to it. The US gov't can cough up $trillions for wars with highly uncertain energy related benefits. Compared to that, these guys have been given a TEENSY WEENSY amount of money. It's like giving your kid brother 2 pennies to make your bed for you. Chances are, he won't do it, but the cost was essentially zero!

  • by Herby Sagues (925683) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:45AM (#29239841)
    The idea is feasible indeed, just not economically viable. These guys make their calculations based on one big error: they assume that the cost of making roads is 100% laying down asphalt. That is, that their solar panels (even if they could be built according to the specs and there were no other costs such as electricity transmission, monitoring or all that) can replace the whole cost of building a road. But the only part their panels can replace is the upper layer (and only partially, as they don't seem to be counting paint). All the digging, the leveling, the compression, the fences, the lighting and other components, plus design, layout, management and the like are perhaps 90% of the cost. So basically their project would double the cost of making highways. Or you could put it another way. If making a road with solar panels cost X, making it with similar materials to the solar panel's protective layer would cost a fraction of X (and a small fraction, as the expensive part in a solar panel is not precisely the protective layer). So calculating that the cost is zero is simply a scam attempt. And considering the headlines, a successful one.
  • Re:A dumb argument (Score:3, Insightful)

    by copponex (13876) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:54AM (#29239887) Homepage

    It depends on whether there's a profit it in or not.

    So, if I hold a patent for an extremely efficient vehicle that never breaks down, am I going to sell the product and destroy the profitability of my company, or stick to the more inefficient products that already have a willing group of consumers?

    The argument that the market leads to efficiency is exactly wrong. The unregulated market leads to monopolies, racketeering, and profit, usually at the expense of efficiency, because efficiency means less profit.

    A well regulated market can lead to efficiency through genuine competition, but it's actually pretty rare. Take a look at the expenditure of energy for transportation across the world. Which market has led to massive inefficiency, and can only survive through colonial exploitation? It's not Finland.

  • Re:A dumb argument (Score:4, Insightful)

    by da cog (531643) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:58AM (#29239911)

    There is this thing, though, called snake oil. Politicians love it, these days even more so when it's 'Green Snake Oil'.

    There is a fascinating disconnect between your posting and the lack of actual politicians claiming that this particular technology is going to solve all of our problems, as well as a lack of companies selling this product in large quantities to a deceived public.

    Granted, it would seem that some people are really enthusiastic about how awesome this technology could be if it pans out. I fail to see how this is a bad thing. Haven't you ever gotten really enthusiastic about a project before? Didn't this enthusiasm motivate you to get started and see how far you could push your idea, even while a little part of you knew that realistically it probably wouldn't live up to all of your expectations?

  • What about CEOs? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by copponex (13876) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @01:10AM (#29239963) Homepage

    I'm sorry, I really have difficulty parsing these arguments sometimes, because one side is always lacking skepticism for whomever they're supporting.

    I don't trust any politicians. Just like I don't trust any CEOs. But I can be swayed by rational argument.

    Let's look at health care. On one side, you have politicians saying that we need regulation of health care to make sure people don't suffer. That's the claim - maybe it's populist, or naive, but there it is. The motivation for the politician is to get re-elected. As far as I know, the current Administration does not own industries that will benefit from this legislation. As far as I know, all the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations who are funding the hatred against single payer options are at risk of losing a lot of money. By default, whose position is more suspect?

    There's snake oil out there called The War on Terrorism, and National Security, and the March of Freedom, and the War on Drugs, and so on. They cause a lot more damage and waste an incomparable sum compared to research on sustainable technology. So let's fix the dam break before we worry about puddles in the parking lot.

  • Re:A dumb argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by copponex (13876) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @01:39AM (#29240063) Homepage

    Who bought up mass transit systems across the united states and shut them down? Who has been lobbying for the prohibition of natural drugs, and profiting immensely off of the sales of their own derivatives? Who shut down their production electric vehicle line and sold the patents to an oil company once there was no state requirement to produce a zero emissions vehicle? No one's talking about imaginary carburetors except for you. I'm talking about the self-evident fact that unpoliced corporations will destroy anyone and everything in order to turn a profit, even if it means dooming their country to reliance on foreign resources or destroying local manufacturing by moving jobs overseas. Especially now that corporations are international, they will exploit anyone who allows them in, and if you think for a moment that Exxon or Microsoft or Bechtel care if there is a just and equitable society anywhere, you're just not paying attention.

    The reason the market works sometimes is because there's competition. But there can't be competition without regulation. That's why the rest of the western world pays half of what we do for health care, transportation, and communications. That's also why they still have a middle class and less poverty, even in Germany, which absorbed it's communist half not even 30 years ago. In these countries, the rights and values of the society are more important than the private profits of corporations. This is due to active democratic action and unions, who are vilified by corporate culture for a very simple reason: they are the only check to corporate power, because they have the ability to influence the government and represent the will of people. (Not that they succeed in this goal all the time, or are innocent of corruption.)

    I'm sure you're enamored with your quips, and at least the effort matches the quality, but you're failing to provide any interesting points. So provide me with the narrative. Show me where a corporation engaged in pure research, brought a product to market without government subsidy, and revolutionized the world. For bonus points, show me where they decided that the product was so beneficial they'd allow anyone to produce it for the betterment of mankind.

  • Re:A dumb argument (Score:4, Insightful)

    by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @02:36AM (#29240309)

    If the government is already spending $10k per unit of road and this company thinks it's possible to deliver a product which will already be purchased by my tax dollars (road) but have added benefits then I think it's worth a little feasibility study.

    This is:
    Space already being used.
    Money that's already being spent.
    and delivers
    Electricty
    Infrastructure (Grid, Data etc)
    and
    Improved safety.

    If it worked then there would be little down side except increased up front costs.

    Do you want the government trying to get the most bang for your buck or just sticking to the tried and true without an eye for innovation?

  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jo_ham (604554) <joham999@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday August 29, 2009 @06:29AM (#29241223)

    So rather than, oh I don't know, do some research on new ways to make roads, you'll just laugh at anyone who attempts to do so because the materials we use right now are so readily destroyed by heavy traffic?

    "Super tough clear material" is non specific, but what if it's something based on carbon nano-tech, or based on current plastics but is replaceable like tarmac or concrete on a similar replacement schedule.

    You think when Galileo said "hey guys, I've been looking up at the sky a lot lately and it seems to me that the Earth goes around the Sun..." everyone else in the room said "oh man, another laugh out loud moment, this discussion *delivers*!".

    Congratulations, you made yourself look like the 16th Century church. Go repress some people and leave /. alone.

  • Re:A dumb argument (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @06:40AM (#29241293) Homepage Journal

    >>Who bought up mass transit systems across the united states and shut them down?

    Man, I wish they'd shut down the mass transit in LA. Maybe then they'd finally get their heads out of their asses and expand the interstates that haven't been upgraded since the 60s.

    And literally, yeah, LA back in the day decided they would solve the traffic problem by expanding mass transit instead of expanding the roads. The snarling mess of traffic that millions of people have to deal with every day is a result of this idiotic "green" idea. By contrast, Orange County (part of the LA metropolitan region) has been consistently working on their roads since the 80s. While OC still is no picnic, when you transition from LA to OC at 7:30 at night, it's like a breath of fresh air as you speed up from 35 to 75.

    LA, by contrast, runs the entire I-5 down to a single lane in the busiest part of the road. (The I-5 is the main north-south artery for the entire state.) And it's been that way since I was born.

  • by Krakadoom (1407635) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @07:10AM (#29241413)
    The actual problem is that you assume that all the power needs need to come from one source. Before electricity was effectively harnessed we got 'power' from a multitude of sources - what's wrong with doing that again? As long as you can generate X amount and feed it into the infrastructure, you're helping the problem. You dont need a silver bullet, you need 1000 trickles to make the river.
  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:22AM (#29241677) Homepage Journal

    I would think these large glass panels could be susceptible to the same problem.

    You can't pick the concrete up and work on the road surface underneath it. You may well be able to do that with an engineered roadway which is laid down in segments. Since most roads seem to fail due to inadequacies of the roadbed or the surface beneath it, this could make a big difference. An engineered roadway which was thick enough might actually help a great deal in this regard, because when it spans a hole it might adequately cover it where concrete (with no self-healing) or asphalt (whose self-healing abilities are limited and pretty well restricted to hot weather) would simply be pressed into the hole and broken; on the other hand, it might also be a liability because it might hide that kind of defect in a roadbed until it becomes a major problem.

    It would be a lot smarter to build solar railways, with solar panels between the rails, and forget about this interstate highway bullshit.

  • Re:Oh, get real. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:41AM (#29241805) Journal

    That's because flashlights and calculators use use around 1 watt of power, whereas the typical home A/C or heat pump uses ~10,000 watts. Good like scaling your little solar panel upto that level. Do you have a small farm nearby, because you'll need to pave it over with panels in order to run your A/C off sunlight.

    (sigh)

    Reading this thread you can really tell who are the engineers (they know their science and what's impossible), and the environments (they believe with all their hearts anything is possible, even if it violates the laws of the universe). I recall having a similar argument with my dad. He said "if they took an electric car and attached a generator to the tire, the generator would keep the battery full, and you'd never need to plug it in." I tried to explain to him that's impossible since perpetual motion is not possible, and energy is wasted as "heat" due to air friction as the car drives down the road, so eventually his EV car would empty its battery and stop.

    He insisted I was an idiot and of course it would work. I got angry and walked out. I probably shouldn't have done that but then, science-illiterate people shouldn't be calling people with two college degrees "idiots" either.

    Learn science FIRST before you propose stupid ideas.

  • Occam's Razor (Score:2, Insightful)

    by abarrow (117740) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:17AM (#29241999) Homepage

    While it might be technically possible, it seems to me that the simpler solution would be just to work on making existing systems more efficient and putting them on the side of the road. I'm in the middle of a road trip across the US, and if Interstate 40 is anything to go by, it would be a cold day in hell before they made this system strong enough to survive just a few weeks of the sort of traffic I've seen.

    Most of the major highways have pretty large center divides - just put the solar arrays there and stop with the fancy stuff already!

  • by volkris (694) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:53AM (#29243527)

    Sure the current administration owns an "industry" that will benefit from these regulations. THE industry, these days: the Federal Government and all of the other governments who will benefit from being the generous philanthropists, handing out health care.... to those who cooperate, at least.

    Pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and other businesses aren't funding "hatred" against single payer health care. They don't need to. People read the proposals and see their freedoms being taken away, see themselves being "strongly encouraged" to go in certain directions by a government seeking to force its philosophies and values upon us all, and they naturally reject the ideas. People can see the scumminess of this process and inconsistencies in political pronouncements without some evil corporation hilighting them.

    The "hatred" for single payer options comes from a simple fact: people don't all agree that it's a good idea, and resent having it forced upon them.

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