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Earth Power Hardware

Sweden Imports European Garbage To Power the Nation 165

Posted by Soulskill
from the quick-everybody-become-more-wasteful dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "NPR reports that Sweden's program of generating energy from garbage is wildly successful, but recently its success has also generated a surprising issue: There is simply not enough trash. Sweden has recently begun to import about eight hundred thousand tons of trash from the rest of Europe per year to use in its power plants. Sweden already brings trash from Norway and hopes to get garbage from Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic countries. Sweden creates energy for around 250,000 homes and powers one-fifth of the district heating system. Its incineration plants offer a look into the future where countries could potentially make money off of their trash instead of dumping. Landfilling of organic materials – a highly inefficient and environmentally degrading system (PDF) — has been forbidden in Sweden since 2005 and emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from landfills has fallen dramatically (PDF). 'I hope that we instead will get the waste from Italy or from Romania or Bulgaria or the Baltic countries because they landfill a lot in these countries,' says Catarina Ostlund, a senior advisor for the country's environmental protection agency. 'They don't have any incineration plants or recycling plants, so they need to find a solution for their waste.'"
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Sweden Imports European Garbage To Power the Nation

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  • First Post (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:15AM (#41816311)

    If only forum spam could be processed into electricity.

  • by pr0nbot (313417) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:17AM (#41816319)

    Bloody socialists. My garbage is mine to dispose of as I see fit -- after, all I created it through my own private endeavour! To see it wrested from my hands is frankly an assault on my liberty and a chilling curb on garbage creators like me everywhere. By golly, if they take too much of my garbage, I'll be forced to move overseas.

  • Haven't read TFA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow (319597) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:20AM (#41816335) Homepage

    But, how much energy does it take to move that amount of waste, from those countries, to Sweden, sort, process, and extract energy from them compared to, say, the useful energy out from the process that's heating those 250,000 homes (which doesn't seem an awful lot, and I live in the UK which is smaller but has more people in it)?

    Surely the transport costs alone would mean it would be better to buy the diesel used to transport that amount of material, then burn that directly?

    How is this "green"?

    • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:29AM (#41816407)

      But, how much energy does it take to move that amount of ...

      It can't be worse than coal because it doesn't take any energy to break it loose from the earth and crush it, and the labor at the small scale is "free" you don't have to pay people to put trash in a trash can (but at higher levels a truck of coal costs about as much to drive as a truck of garbage) Admittedly the energy content per Kg is probably a bit lower so its not going to be as much of a win over coal as you'd guess. But it certainly won't be worse.

      The real killer energy cost / green issue is exhaust emissions scrubbing. Not selling electronic devices with lead based solder doesn't mean all durable goods made with lead solder instantly disappeared. Plenty of things in the trash that you wouldn't want to breathe after burning. You'd like to think special bins for plastic and electronics magically means the "food refuse" bin is pristine pure 100% lead and plastic and paint free, but its not, and the required scrubbing just in case is expensive.

      • I think everyone is forgetting that none of this crap gets dumped in a landfill...
        • by joaommp (685612)

          Portugal talking to Sweden:

          - "So, you're producing electricity by incinerating trash? How cute."

          I find it very interesting that Sweden is now doing this... Meanwhile in Portugal, this has been done for at least 20 years in thermoelectric powerplants and concrete factories (the so called co-incineration/co-generation).

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Well, TFA doesn't say it all. We've been burning trash for electricity and heat for at least 50 years here in Sweden. I grew up just a few miles from the biggest station in the Stockholm area.

      • The summary also mentions methane emissions have fallen. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and is emitted from landfills. Landfills often try to burn the methane (according to the wiki page on methane). But I'm guessing the process will be much more optimized if someone is making money off of it as opposed to someone being directed to burn it to prevent global warming or to explosions. The lowered emissions seem consistent with that.
        • by Nexus7 (2919)

          Methane emissions have fallen - this implies there's a lot of organic matter in the trash. While incinerating it is faster, I wonder if composting it would be a better long term approach. There are many sources of energy, but organic matter is more valuable as fertilizer. Especially in that it will recover chemicals like phosphorus, of which there's a shortage brewing.

          About the cost of transporting it - if a lot of the trash is organic, then they're essentially transporting water, something that becomes evi

      • by rasmusbr (2186518)

        Scrubbing is not really contingent on anything. Things like plastic, wood, paper and other organic waste also produce toxic gases and ash even when you burn them at high temperatures in nearly ideal conditions. For one thing everything that lives AFAIK contains considerable amounts of sulfur. Remember when your chemistry teacher had you burn sulfur to make sulfuric acid?

        S + O2 SO2 (fuel burns)
        2 SO2 + O2 2 SO3 (more burning)
        SO3 + H2O H2SO4 (exhaust comes into contact with water in the atmosphere)

        By the wa

      • by Frekja (982708)
        Well, maybe not coal because of the amount of CO2 coal emits, but you have to factor in the conversion efficiency - 25% for badly designed mass burn vs 56% for CCGT; the amount of water that has to be evaporated before the rubbish will burn; and the amount of energy/carbon that went into plastic production (if you're comparing against recycling or reuse). A recent ENDS report (respected UK environmental trade journal) reported that if the amount of biomass in waste is below 65%, you get less CO2 from just b
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The problem is very complex. I am pretty sure the country with the rubbish (Italy, Romania, Bulgaria... ) would pay for the transport and then some.

      It would be more effective for those country to build their own garbage burning power plants, but they often find strong opposition (NIMBY syndrome). Opposition usually says it is dangerous for helth due to the fumes, and it makes recicling and reducing garbage production counter productive (as partially shown by sweeden "problem"). So, in country like Italy dis

      • You don't get it, Romania and Bulgaria do not have a garbage disposal problem (Italy actually has), Sweden has over-capacity in its waste burning plants and thus imports waste to keep them powered.
      • If oil comes from Norway via pipes probably not

        No pipes for the Swedes! They can get our trash, but oil? NEVER!

      • Re:Haven't read TFA (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gadget junkie (618542) <gbponz@libero.it> on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @09:21AM (#41816875) Journal

        [...] So, in country like Italy disposing of garbage is a costly problem and it is not unlikely that the government would be happy to pay.

        About the cost of moving oil, well if you import your oil from Saudi, then it is cheaper to import rubbish from Italy. If oil comes from Norway via pipes probably not, but oil i definetely more expansive than garbage

        I beg to disagree. Garbage producing countries are paying to get rid of the thing, including transport costs. I do not see the Saudis paying the swedes to get rid of the oil which is staining the inside of the oil wells. In the end the Swedes are only selling a service: how to part morons from their money. Luckily, now there's an economic crisis, so we're starting incinerating plants over here in italy too. [trm.to.it]
        Pity is, they're owned and/or controlled by the municipalities, so none of those will use garbage from outside their administrative area: plants are built too small, etc.etc., so as a country the problem will remain.

        • Luckily, now there's an economic crisis, so we're starting incinerating plants over here in italy too.

          We're not starting, we have more than 50 incineration plants [wikipedia.org]. The incinerator in Brescia has been burning trash and warming homes since 1998. It even won the WTERT industry award [columbia.edu] in 2006.

          Why don't you get your facts straight before commenting?

      • by sumdumass (711423)

        About the cost of moving oil, well if you import your oil from Saudi, then it is cheaper to import rubbish from Italy. If oil comes from Norway via pipes probably not, but oil i definetely more expansive than garbage

        Not necessarily. It would depend on the differences in energy density between oil and the trash. Granted, its a longer distance, but if the oil is the equivalent of 10 trash piles per costs to transport, the Saudi solution could still be cheaper.

        But, I suspect this solves some sort of problem t

    • by i (8254)

      Not necessarily. You have to transport whatever fuel You use. E g the oil from middle east. (By burning diesel...)

      Here You could have the fuel in the local district or in a neighbour country. And You have to take care of the trash anyway! *Which in itself costs energi*

      • by ledow (319597)

        Okay, so *someone* has to pay to put the fuel into that foreign country in the first place, then pay for the extra bit in the tank required to move it *and* the cargo to its destination.

        Whatever way you look at it, you paid to move X amount of rubbish to your country and burn it, where you could have just moved Y amount of oil to your country and burned it instead without any intermediate losses and conversions and it wouldn't have cost any more.

        But the *killer* is that you're still burning diesel, just ind

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          You have to move that rubbish around anyway, even if you just throw it in landfill. At least by burning it you can recover much of the energy.

          As usual whenever anyone points out a seemingly obvious flaw on Slashdot you can be sure that knowledgeable engineer has sat down and worked it out before convincing people to invest millions of Euros in it.

    • The reality is as follows: There were people trying to establish wast burning plants all over the nation. Some communities resisted. Then came the recycling revolution and you had so much capacity in your waste plants and so little waste fuel was left. So they decided to import waste to burn it. Still waste burning plants are a deficit business. The problem is theirs: massive overcapacity in waste plants.
    • Re:Haven't read TFA (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Zocalo (252965) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:48AM (#41816577) Homepage
      Perhaps they are planning on avoiding the use of diesel? Most of the EU's main rail networks have been electrified for years, so if the Swedes are serious about making this environmentally efficient then I suspect they'd be looking at freighting the garbage in bulk on trains using that. As long as you can generate more power from a given train load of garbage that it takes to freight it then you are on to a winner - and that's before you consider the environmental and ecological impact of just dumping it all into landfill.
      • by rasmusbr (2186518)

        You could ship it by rail the whole way, but that seems like a waste of railway cars and space in the railway schedule that could be better used to transport valuable and/or time-critical freight or passengers on passenger trains. I think they actually use ships and ship the garbage to the harbor nearest to the power plant where they then load the garbage on trucks or railway cars depending on a bunch of factors like how far away the plant is and whether it has a rail connection.

        Slow-going ships are ridicul

    • Re:Haven't read TFA (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sqr(twg) (2126054) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:55AM (#41816631)

      The elecric energy that can be recovered from one tonne of waste (0.5 MWh) is approximately sufficient to transport one tonne of cargo the circumference of the Earth by rail or sea. The distances discussed here are significantly shorter than that.

      (In addition, incineration generates about 2 MWh of heat per tonne, but that can only be used for applications like domestic heating, not for transport.)

    • This BS episode [youtube.com] is from 2006, but asks the same thing, but with the entertainment value of Penn & Teller to present the case that it is at least a good question.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's been shown over and again that they were wrong on this one (Google it!)

        Further, the entertainment value of P&T can often get overrun by their logical fallacies (ad hominem attacks all over, appeals to emotion) and frankly kooky choice of "experts", all being CATO institute hacks, seldom actual scientists.

    • Re:Haven't read TFA (Score:5, Informative)

      by FishTankX (1539069) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @09:02AM (#41816703)

      You would be surprised.

      Trains can get about 400 ton-miles per galon of diesel.

      So if it's 1600 miles to sweden by rail, that means that you're burning 4 gallons of diesel per ton of garbage transported.

      4 gallons of diesel is about 32 pounds. So you're getting around 60 pounds of trash for 1 gallon of diesel.

      I've seen some figures that peg municipal waste as ~4000 BTU/lb. If you're doing cogen then that's almost all used.

      Diesel is probably closer to 16,000 BTU's per pound but even at those ratios, you're getting about 500 pounds diesel equivalent of energy out of 32 pounds of diesel.

      That is a highly favorable ratio so no, it does not make transporting the garbage less energy efficent than burning diesel. Not by a long shot.

      Also, if you believe in anthropogenic global warming, eliminating garbage by burning it keeps it from producing the much more AGW effecting methane gas.

      • by SpzToid (869795)

        The city of Amsterdam has a plant that imports garbage from other countries to create electricity also. Just to back up your point, Amsterdam is busy creating new canals for barge traffic to more efficiently feed the plant from abroad.

        http://www.amsterdam.nl/aeb/english [amsterdam.nl]

        Seems like a growth industry fueled not by the private sector and the special interest groups, but by governments with an eye on the ball.

    • by zazzel (98233)

      My city (Germany) burns plastic (and other) waste for energy generation, too. Since our garbage collection system separates recyclable plastic from the start, they just have to collect and compress the yellow bags in front of my door (which happens anyway) - and burn them. Details (in German, just use Google Translate): http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCllheizkraftwerk_Bremen [wikipedia.org]

      So, only the compressed bags get moved around. Should not be too costly, since there are railways and rivers between Sweden and Roma

    • Surely the transport costs alone....

      People will usually pay you to take their trash :)
      No municipality wants a landfill in the neighbourhood, transport by sea is usually cheap.

      How is this "green"?

      Compared to dumping stuff on landfills this is very much green. Bad stuff doesn't leak into the ground water, and the emissions are filtered pretty good.
      I trust the Swedes to do a good job at filtering the emissions.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No municipality wants a landfill in the neighborhood, transport by sea is usually cheap.

        Hm, You just gave me an idea. I wonder who will first claim the right to mine plastic from Great $Ocean Garbage Patch? If I was a naval architect, I would project "Plastics Harvester Boats" today. And I would make sure they can use their catch for their own propulsion.

        • I believe people have already tried to design a process for recovering it, but the problem is that the area density of that plastic is still pretty low.
    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "Surely the transport costs alone would mean it would be better to buy the diesel used to transport that amount of material, then burn that directly?"

      They 'import' it, nowhere does it say they 'pay' for it. The trash owner has to pay to get rid of it, the only thing is that companies who make electricity money from taking it can have a lower price than those who have to deal with it in other ways.
      I live in a small country in Europe and we have the same problem, because of our heavy recycling, 5 garbage bins

    • by sjames (1099)

      Apparently not. Of course, one factor may be that the garbage must be disposed of somehow, and people will often pay to get rid of it.

    • by DaveGod (703167)

      The "green" credentials are not as simple as the net energy produced. Generalising, we're running out of landfill sites in the EU. I daresay it can be an overall energy deficit and still be preferable.

      Partly due to the lack of landfill, and partly for "green" reasons like methane and the nasty leachate run-off, the EU are mandating a per-ton penalty for waste dumped in landfill. The response has been effective in my city. More than half my usual domestic rubbish by volume (quite a bit more than half by weig

  • Great solution! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jenningsthecat (1525947) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:20AM (#41816337)

    Because, of course, it contributes NO greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

    When are we going to get serious about NOT actively promoting global warming with every 'solution' we come up with? Sure, incineration reduces methane emissions, but couldn't we either recycle more, (and more efficiently), and/or just consume less?

    Our pursuit of 'shiny' is killing us.

    • Swedes, in general, shun new and shiny ... they like minimalistic (even in Stockholm ... well, maybe not Östermalm). Also, you try to get your head around the concept of "lagom."
    • by feepcreature (623518) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:49AM (#41816585) Homepage

      Because, of course, it contributes NO greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

      We're some way off global, carbon-free energy production, as you point out. But that's not the problem this is solving.

      Of course energy from garbage contributes greenhouse gases. But this is not displacing greenhouse-gas-free nuclear or wave power generation - it is reducing the dependency on high-running-cost, greenhouse-gas-producing oil / gas / coal power. So it increases sustainability to that extent. That is a good thing. And less landfill is also a good thing.

      It's not about "shiny", so much as improving things where and when we can. But we need to increase reuse and recycling (in that order), and reduce waste caused by built-in obsolescence, excess packaging, and excessive consumption too.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        But oil/gas/coal are cheap, not "high cost".

        Also I'd expect that due to the uniformity of the fuel, oil/gas/coal might burn cleaner with less pollution. With various organics I'd expect significant variation in the fuel, and a much more difficult to control process.

    • Re:Great solution! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:59AM (#41816673)

      couldn't we either recycle more, (and more efficiently), and/or just consume less?

      I'm all for that. Although since the Swedes have a garbage shortage, maybe they're already doing that reasonably well.

      As it is, they may be producing greenhouse gases, but at least they're producing them from waste that has to be disposed of anyway and not trucking in fossil fuels that require extraction, refining and transport in addition to the energy consumed in hauling waste.

      Every little bit helps.

    • Re:Great solution! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Skinny Rav (181822) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @09:21AM (#41816865)

      Because, of course, it contributes NO greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

      When are we going to get serious about NOT actively promoting global warming with every 'solution' we come up with? Sure, incineration reduces methane emissions, but couldn't we either recycle more, (and more efficiently), and/or just consume less?

      Our pursuit of 'shiny' is killing us.

      First of all Sweden seems to recycle as much as possible to the point they ran out of garbage and have to import it.

      Second, this matter would decompose anyway releasing (as you noticed) methane, a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If in those countries all this garbage would end up on landfills, why not to burn it thus both reducing coal burning and reducing methane emissions?

      Third, nothing is lost. Do you think that if Sweden wasn't burning Italian trash, Italians would start recycling?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The organic matter they burn was produced by farming, therefore the full cycle did not produce COâ. Unlinke burning oil, which releases all COâ fixed in ancient ancient forests during the last 500 million years.

    • by IrquiM (471313)
      Erh, the problem here is that Swedes recycles too much!
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      When are we going to get serious about NOT actively promoting global warming with every 'solution' we come up with? Sure, incineration reduces methane emissions, but couldn't we either recycle more, (and more efficiently), and/or just consume less?

      That's a good point. What's sad is that we don't even do the things we can do for free, like mandating that packaging shall carry symbols for recycling. We've already made such mandates for electronic goods, and plastic parts now have symbols stamped on them so you can take apart e.g. a PC and recycle basically the whole thing, so long as the manufacturer used rivets made of the same basic material as the case and so on. The difference in many cases between trash and recyclables is a quick heat-stamp.

    • Help me out here. The garbage is going to decompose anyhow and release the greenhouse gases. Sweden isn't doing anything to increase the gasses and might actually be reducing it. And this is before you take into account the greenhouse gas savings from not producing electricity from coal or natural gas. So how is what Sweden is doing causing an increase in greenhouse gasses?

      • The garbage is going to decompose anyhow and release the greenhouse gases. Sweden isn't doing anything to increase the gasses and might actually be reducing it. And this is before you take into account the greenhouse gas savings from not producing electricity from coal or natural gas. So how is what Sweden is doing causing an increase in greenhouse gasses?

        For one thing, even 'garbage' may have a significant portion of recyclable, and perhaps even re-useable, material in it, as a result of human error, laziness, lax regulations, etc. (I doubt the jurisdictions that Sweden imports garbage from are anywhere near as good as Sweden itself when it comes to separating waste). Incinerting this stuff, as opposed to recycling it, just means that we use lots more energy to extract more from the earth and refine it next time we need it, rather than recovering the energy

  • by the_arrow (171557) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:21AM (#41816343) Homepage

    Swedes are very good at recycling and waste separation. Even McDonald et al. have different trash bins for everything.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, at least Sweden has a "Pollutor pays"-inspired law in place, meaning that anyone who sells anything must pay for the costs of taking care of the waste produced throughout the the lifecycle of the product (even from packaging of the product).

    • ...different trash bins for everything.

      Ah, yes [sharetv.org]!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I hate that sort of thing. They need either to make everything out of the same material so there is no need to sort or find a way to separate the materials at their end. Requiring customers to wonder if the cap on the soda goes a different place than the cup which may itself go somewhere else than the remaining food waste is just ridiculous. Where does the dirty food wrapper go? Is it food because it has food on it, or is it paper, or is it actually a plastic that looks like thin paper? Is the remaining sod

  • Oil Drilling (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:22AM (#41816353)

    Meanwhile, in the United States of America, the discussion is Oil Drilling. Not trying to troll, but you guys need to get your priorities straight. It was not long ago you guys were pointing out the way forward and the world needs you to do so again.

    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      Not trying to troll, but you guys need to get your priorities straight.

      Speaking as an American, I agree wholeheartedly. My problem is, and always has been, getting the other 300 million Americans to agree with my priorities.

  • A renewable resource of almost unlimited potential! We can just consume more and throw it all in the garbage when we run low!
  • They take your garbage and toxic dump at lower prices.

    The fact that they dump it in the sea, volcano, ... is none of your business.

  • by tomhath (637240) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @08:45AM (#41816543)
    Generating electricity from trash is pretty inefficient, the US had almost 200 incinerators in 1990 but roughly half of them have been shut down due to economics. The real money for Sweden is the fee for taking trash from European countries that don't have (or won't build) landfills. Still, in the long run it seems make more sense to burn it rather than just bury it even if burning is more expensive in the short term..
    • by Grayhand (2610049)

      Generating electricity from trash is pretty inefficient, the US had almost 200 incinerators in 1990 but roughly half of them have been shut down due to economics. The real money for Sweden is the fee for taking trash from European countries that don't have (or won't build) landfills. Still, in the long run it seems make more sense to burn it rather than just bury it even if burning is more expensive in the short term..

      I was living in LA when they had to shut down the main dump because they filled in a valley. That shows how unsustainable our current system is of disposing of waste. Most of the plastics can be converted to various forms of fuel from diesel and fuel oil to a form of gasoline. Most of the rest is burned. So long as you filter the smoke the system works well since high temperatures break down most of the toxic materials. You mostly get carbon and trace amounts of metals. It's how they safely get rid of chemi

    • The economics were due in part to the air pollution controls and the fact that the older style incinerators we designed to burn everything. You need to sort through stuff carefully.

      Also, you might have noticed that the economics of oil and other power sources have changed slightly since the 1990s. Still sometimes a complex decision. We looked at restarting our small municipal incinerator but the start up costs and the limited power generated made industrial composting a better solution. But for a larger

    • by Sqr(twg) (2126054)

      Science has come a long way since the 1990's. Modern incinerators have better efficiency, lower operating costs, and much lower emissions.

  • Italy does have incineration plants and recycling facilities. Although it's true that there is still way too much reliance on landfills.

  • We used to do that in the US.

    Columbus Ohio had a trash burning power plant but it got shut down in the mid 1980's because of the costs of environmental regulations. I wonder if anything like this could be possible in the US nowadays with the improved emissions processes?

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Columbus Ohio had a trash burning power plant but it got shut down in the mid 1980's because of the costs of environmental regulations.

      There was one in the St Louis area, too -- my uncle worked there. He smoked four packs of Kools per day through the one lung he hadn't lost to TB and died from COPD at age 60. But I'd wager he might have had another five or ten years had he worked somewhere else.

      There is a Monsanto plant in Sauget, across the river from St Louis. Before environmental regs you had to roll the

      • by sumdumass (711423)

        So then your answer is no, we couldn't do it again in the US?

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          It would be neither cost-effective nor environmentally friendly, so yes, the answer is no. But it's no for good reason.

  • Some Swedes do not know, that other Swedes are about to start burning garbage in Lithuania (one of the Baltic countries): http://www.fortum.lt/chp-plant [fortum.lt] .
  • Is it just me or is this nothing new? As least my dutch garbage has been used to generate electricity for ages, often using the waste heat from that process for heating. And since garbage processing is a commercial business, obviously they're going to want to use their capacity to the maximum. Since laws in Europe require proper garbage disposal, this is has been booming business in many European countries for quite a while and plants in the Netherlands have been processing garbage from several other Europe

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