By on October 25, 2010

You’ve heard the old joke about ham and eggs, right? The chicken is involved, and the pig is committed? Well, I’m going to give ethanol a shot for a while and report the details to all of you. I’m involved, and my Town Car is committed.

There are three E85 stations within five miles of my house. Two of them are operated by the Kroger grocery chain. E85 pricing is perhaps the one thing in America more subject to political and economic meddling than gasoline pricing, but it’s currently at a point where it could make sense to run it.

To find out for myself, I’ve run my 2009 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited down to below “E” and refueled with E85. On October 24, 2010, E85 was priced at $2.29 locally for me, compared to $2.79 for 87 octane gas. My Town Car reports 21.4 miles per gallon in mixed-use driving, usually running between 75 and 85 on the freeway and with about five surface street miles for every fifteen ones on the Interstate.

I estimate that I need to average 17.8 mpg in order for E85 to “balance out” under these conditions. I’m scheduled to drive about 600 miles in the next seven days, so on Monday I will come back and tell you how I did.

No, this isn’t particularly scientific, and it ignores the other potential costs of E85 — wear on the engine, fuel system damage, food prices in Zimbabwe, and so on — but it’s a start.

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48 Comments on “Take A Chance On E(85)...”


  • avatar
    ash78

    That’s a pretty good fuel price discount…the one E85 station that I see regularly is only about 10 cents cheaper than 87, so it’s purely an environmental decision over an economic one.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      Of course the “discount” is somewhat of an illusion – how much taxes (and debt) did the government have to supply to get the lower price?  Everyone will have to pay those taxes and debt for the subsidy in production of ethanol.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      That same illusory price applies to fuel as well.  There are all sorts of costs to maintaining oil security that are externalized.
       
      Not that this makes corn ethanol better, just not unique.
       
      I would be interested to see if there’s a market for “blood-free oil”.  It would be interesting to see if and how many people would be willing to pay a premium for it.  I doubt many.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I would be interested to see if there’s a market for “blood-free oil”.  

      My understanding is that most fuel in NA is already “blood-free” since we get most of our oil from Canada and Venezuela, and relatively little from the Mid-East. However, I expect that such marketing would be overwhelmed by negative environmental issues with the market that was receptive to a “blood-free” pitch.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with a “blood-free” approach is that oil is a commodity, so even if we purchased 100% of our oil from canada/venezuela, it would still reduce the amount of oil available, driving up the prices of “bloody oil” by reducing the total supply, negating any loss in revenue from opec countries, etc. That’s not a particularly clear explanation and I’ll elaborate if someone would like

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Even with the discount it still costs you more to run E85. At least in my vehicle. Good experiment but it is time to take what we’ve learned and move on.

  • avatar

    There is one other factor that many do not consider. It is one of principal. The subsidy of corn in this country by government is killing its citizens. I refuse to support it by buying products that contain it, when possible. For the first time, our children will have a shorter life span than their preceding parents and grandparents. I could stand on a soap box for hours on this topic but if you REALLY care about this country and the health of your families, watch the documentary called Food Inc. The greed of politicians and agrobusiness is appauling and the average consumer does not have a clue. 70% of all antibiotics sold in the US is for use in cows, pigs, and chickens!!! (Why? Corn kills the cows. They were not created to eat it.) Hormone use also follows the same trend in meat. Ecoli has become so resistant that all corn feed meat is now run through an ammonia bath to try to quell this trend.

    I realize that this is a little off topic but companies like Monsanto are destroying the health of our nation and diabetes and obesity is running rampant in the name of cheap food/corn (lobbyists from McDonalds and others like them are the short term profiteers of this and since they are one of the largest purchasers, they define how meat is processed and diluted (corn fillers)) .

    If you do not vote at the polls, vote with your dollars. Find a fruit and vegtable market from an organic grower and search for farms that only sell grass fed beef, chicken, and pork.

    And, do not support E85. The potential costs you are refering to are in the billions when you consider the cost of chemicals, health, and our future.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      I really enjoyed “Food, Inc” which covered most of the above. I wish they had spent more time on ethanol, but I think it would have bored the core audience.
       
      I’m no health freak or enviro fringer, but after seeing some of that stuff, I don’t see how every average person isn’t scared of the food supply. It’s like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” for the modern corporate era.

      A baby step towards ideal behavior is to buy from companies like Laura’s Lean Beef (available at Target and some grocers). Only a wee bit more expensive than regular meat, and a nice way to vote with your wallet.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The real problem, or at least the problem on a large scale, is the prevalence of corn-derived sugar syrups in just about every foodstuff.
       
      There’s some evidence that they’re metabolised differently than glucose is, and that it’s more readily resulted in obesity in lab rats.  The reason we use corn syrup, though, is largely a sop to the agricultural market; it’s so incredibly cheap and versatile.  Go and find me a breakfast cereal or loaf of bread that doesn’t have “glucose and/or fructose”.  IN fact, go and find a pasta sauce that doesn’t.  Or any number of things.
       
      It might be a false correlation, but there’s a coincidence between the uptake of grain products and sugars (not fats) and the spike in obesity and diabetes.  It’s also very much the elephant in the room: we’re still fighting fats and salts, but added sugar is never, ever addressed.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      A good book on the topic is “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      yes indeed it seems weird that in the US corns is eaten by humans in such large amounts. In Europe corn is barely even sold, probably because it doesn’t grow so well there. (Potatoes rule! :-)
       
      I for myself refuse to eat corn (except on some family occasions) and don’t drink soda (except when offered, but I never actively buy or order it)
       
      Corn also seems to be one of the crops that need the most water. It can grow more per acre (in energy density) than other crops, which likely makes it so popular in the industry.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      The only reason food makers put high fructose corn syrup in foods and sodas instead of sugar is cost. We subsidize corn in the United States. But nowhere the level of sugar. Sugar prices are three to four times the price of corn syrup as a sweetener.
       
      Look at a Coke you buy in the US, and then one bought outside the country. Chances are, one has corn syrup, and one has sugar.
       
      The outcry against corn syrup seems to be the latest in food fads. Scientific evidence that there is any difference in effect on humans between glucose and fructose is very thin.

    • 0 avatar
      Dukeboy01

      So I guess TTAC now stands for The Truth About Corn?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Well since you’re a tax payer you might as well take advantage of the “discount” and let us know how it goes.  Thanks for trying to throw a little light on the subject.

    • 0 avatar

      Time for the teacher to get schooled. It is an important subject.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      How are things in Gallup Dan?  Here in Farmington and NW New Mexico, I’ve never seen E85, only the standard E10.  But considering that Farmington, like so much of NM, is mostly an oil based economy, I don’t see E85 coming here soon.  I’m curious also how it runs and affects vehicles in the real world.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      Time for the teacher to get schooled. It is an important subject.

      Time for Wescott to be nice.  Don’t be so smug.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Every station is E10 save one old Fina station.  But since it could be that they just don’t put stickers on their pumps, I wouldn’t even swear to that one.  My old 150cc scooter (4 stroke) still gets almost 70mpg on E10 being ridden like I stole it.  My F150 on the other hand manages 13mpg around town.  (Which is why I’ve put 2000 miles on the scooter in the past 2 years.)

  • avatar
    joemoc1

    At least you get a choice. There are only a few stations here in Idaho that are not E85. I am not impressed by E85, especially when you have a local government seeking to make it mandatory. I do not have a problem with alternative fuels. I do have a problem when government steps in and ignores the fact that a large portion of the vehicles on the road still, we not designed to run with E85, including things as simple as lawn equipment. The mysterious brown slime that now seems to grow on my lawn mower carburetor each year.  Not sure I want that going thru my injectors on my cars. I get about 1.5 to 2.0 ore MPG not using E85. .10 cents a gallon more is cheap insurance to me to especially since I am getting better mileage.  

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) is uncommon everywhere as it will damage cars that are not specifically designed for it, of which there are only a handful. E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline) is common everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      @Brian

      E85 is available at just about every gas station in my area save a couple independantly owned establishments.

      That being said I recently ran a tank of 100% gasoline, in response to another article about the recent E15 decision which had a link to a site stating where there were stations in my area that had gasoline with no ethanol, and didn’t notice much of a difference. Then again it was of a higher octane that my car is designed to run on and I’ve heard that if you run higher octane fuel in a car not designed for it you might get worse mileage. I don’t understand the chemistry of it or the physics (such as why higher octane prevents knocking), maybe somebody could shed some light.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”. Another good source of information on what’s wrong with our food supply in the US and why we now buy grass fed vs corn fed beef.

    • 0 avatar

      Another great reference but I thought asking people to read something would be less likely to occur.

      History is a great teacher but no one seems to think that something like the potato famine could ever happen again. Monoculture will make it happen and we are on a collision course for just such an event again.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    As the world price of corn is now skyrocketting…The idiot voters committed us all.

    • 0 avatar

      The price is skyrocketing in other countries because they can not produce corn as cheaply because of US subsidies.

      No one voted for corn and its derivatives in our food. Monsanto was given a patten on its geneticly altered corn seed (Thank Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court and EX Monsanto employee) and they have spent millions suing anyone from saving or using any other type of seed. Even if you could get your hands on natural seed, cross contamination from other farm fields gurantees that Monsanto lawyers will put you out of business.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    joemoc1: are you certain that Idaho has made E85 the only fuel available or E10 ? Only vehicles that are built to be run on E85 are supposed to be compatible with it. Hence Mr Baruth’s experiment. It would be news if a state required all fuel to be E85. E10 is supposedly manufacturer compatible and some states only allow E10 to be supplied to their citizenry, like CA. 

    The corn lobby is trying to get an increase of ethanol blending to E15 or E20 as a mainstream fuel which they claim to be harmless to the bulk of the current national fleet. It’s nonsense, but if you pays your money you get to say whatever you like without being questioned…..

    Looking forward to the reports, though.

    • 0 avatar
      joemoc1

      DweezilSFM:

      I stand corrected it is E10 not E15 here in Idaho. There are those trying to mandate that all fuel sold in Idaho is E10 or E15. We are an AG state and it is not only Corn, We have a potato ethenol facotry in Twin Falls. The few non ethenol stations have a petition in an attempt to get a measure on the local ballots next year to allow non ethenol gas to be sold. The legislator is already pushing to make Ethenol mandatory for teh entire state of Idaho.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Thanks for clarifying. Interesting about the potato ethanol. You think there will be a battle to keep it out of contention vs corn ?
      I am interested on alt fuels, but more and more this seems like a foolish use of technology, especially if only corn is being subsidized as a feeder for the fuel. Makes no sense. But then all the concern over the use of a food product to make other non food products is a little sketchy for me, especially when over 3000 different products are derived from corn.
      Either way: the E10 would rot the primer button on my lawn mower when I was in CA.
      I just moved to Tucson and the E85 here is more expensive than regular: $2.68 vs $2.59 at the same station about a mile from where I live.
      At least now I only have rocks and sand and don’t need a mower……

  • avatar

    i wish i could get it. what is it, like 100 octane?

  • avatar
    jaje

    E85 is cheaper than standard unleaded b/c of Gov’t incentives and subsidies.  I don’t know if that covers the $.50 / gallon difference – but everyone pays for it in higher taxes.  To me that only makes sense to a narrow consideration of an individual’s out of pocket expenses and not society as a whole.

    I am however interested to see how the mpg turns out as E85 purportedly has ~30% less energy density meaning ~ 30% drop in mpg one would assume.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      You’re preaching to the choir in a giant, echoey cathedral of automotive skepticism.
       
      Consider that our local switch to E10 a couple years ago hit me with a measurable ~3%-5% penalty instantly, your numbers are probably realistic.

  • avatar

    I recently got back from North Dakota, where all the regular unleaded is alcohol-free.
    I was surprised that my car ran very well on this fuel.  Because the altitute was 4000′
    less than where I live (Colorado), I was certain that I would have to use high octane gas
    in N. Dak.  The car has it’s ignition advanced slightly past stock so I expect to have to
    use better grade fuels (which actually have less energy but more knock resistance).

    Of course one reason the car ran better up north was that there is more air density.
    But the alcohol free fuel played a big part too.  The car idled much smoother, was much faster, got 400 mi. per tank instead of 300.  All this on lower octane fuel at a much lower altitude. 

    God how I wish I could get alcohol free fuel in Ft. Collins. There are only four places in Denver
    where one can.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      I bought a few vehicles in Ontario, where only the most expensive fuel is shite-free. E10 everywhere. And all cars/trucks, being regular, nonflex-fuel models, would run very poorly from the start. As I moved West, their performance would improve and after a few refills here in Alberta, idle would finally become smooth, mileage and performance improve…
      It just drives me mad why these Ottawa hippies would force folks to buy inferior and (in longer run) damaging product. And that’s before we mention fuel lines corrosion and rubber seals deterioration…

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    If you do commit to running E85 all the time, get a standalone ECU and a tuner willing to work with you. You can get better mpg and power by optimizing for ethanol instead of having the OEM computer guessing what’s in the tank.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    Why don’t we just be honest about what the Ethanol program is really about (buying off agribusiness interests and constituents in swing states).
    Why don’t we just skip the middleman and hand out checks to “farmers” (actually Wall Street) so we don’t have to destroy our cars running this crap.
    If we had competent leaders, we’d be pushing natural gas vehicles until electric car technology was affordable for the masses.
     

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    Jack: calculate mileage with filling up / vs. miles driven and don’t use the car computer. they seldom measure correctly and the flow meter may be off with E85 since the viscosity of E85 is different. It likely is calibrated to E10 or pure gasoline.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The fillup/miles method is no less problematic until you have a relatively large sample size. Temperature, pressure, and the tolerances of various pumps for switchoff play a part as well. Over time, those differences even out, making the method reliable.

  • avatar
    jimbowski

    Does this mean that there will be no Baruth articles until next Monday?

  • avatar

    Around my neck of the woods, E10 or E15 is common. My 1999 Volvo S70 (non-turbo) has an 10.3 compression ratio spec and 91 octane is recommended by Volvo, but my mechanic says that 89 octane is acceptable. Maybe that’s true because it’s got 200k and the compression probably isn’t factory spec anymore…
    The thing is, some 91 octane has no ethanol in it, and when I use it, my engine runs smoother and quieter. I don’t think my engine was designed for any ethanol in the mix… maybe 89 octane would be fine if it had no ethanol in it, but there’s no guarantee at the pump.
    So my experience with E10 or E15 leads me to be skeptical of E85. Even if an 87 octane spec engine was designed for E85, I would be concerned that engine wear will occur at a higher rate using E85 (aside from the reduced efficiency/performance).

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      to my knowledge, the compression ratio stays the same on old engines. Before the old worn-out engine leaking gas really matters the cycle is completed. the knocking happens during compression anyway, not in the “work stroke”.
       
      the compression test done measures how much compression is kept after a few seconds. This seems irrelevant to justify using lower grade fuel.
       
      your problems may result from using too low grade gasoline, not from ethanol. Depending on how your car deals with low grade fuel this can cause un-smooth running.
       

  • avatar

    A possible problem with ethanol that no one seems to talk about is its water solubility, which in this application means water’s solubility in ethanol. You won’t have any small quantities of water collecting at the bottom of the fuel tank, you’ll be “burning” it in the engine. Will that have any effect on longevity of parts? I don’t know if this is a problem or not…haven’t heard anyone say. I do know that this is the reason that ethanol cannot be transported via gasoline pipelines.

  • avatar

    Hey Jack we have a Miles Per Dollar Calculator here .. http://e85prices.com/milesperdollar.htm
    It’s sometimes easier to simply see how FAR you are going for each dollar you spend .
    We give a thumbs up to all Stations that provide at least a 15% price spread..most FFVs will see a 10-25% drop..each vehicle is different.  Winter Months the price spread is narrower and summer wider.
     
    For you folks worried about “corn”
     
    1. Corn is is cheap.. 9 cents a POUND..was at $8 a bushel in 2008 ..dropped down to $3.80 and hanging around $5.66 now.. (cbot.com)  roughly 9 cents a POUND..(56 pounds to a bushel ..now one is going hungry or any other the other nonsense you “heard” about corn ethanol. Looks like the 3rd largest corn crop on record..which btw the way is roughly the same we planted in 1944 !
     
    2. One thing you never see mentioned by the anti ethanol people in relation to corn ethanol is that Corn Ethanol is limited to just 15 Billion Gallons a year.(Energy and Security Act of 2007) We already produce almost 13 billion gallons. Only 2 billion gallons of ethanol a year more can be made form corn..thats through the year 2022 .
     
    3. The reason corn is limited to 15 billion gallon is because Congress set it up so corn would be the foundation  for next generation ethanol..ethanol made out of corn was cheap and easy and ethanol made form next generation feedstocks was not easy and was expensive.  So Corn ethanol was given the nod to get the VOLUME going and to give next generation ethanol time to work out the bugs and get  costs down.and that is the phase we are entering in NOW.. If Corn ethanol was allowed more than 15 Billion gallosn than the big money would never have invested in next gen ethanol . Kind of like why Incandescent light bulbs were banned by Congress ..to be phased out.. and replaced by next generation bulbs like CFLs and LEDS… Why would anyone invest billion upon billion into CFLS and LEDS as long as cheap incandescent bulbs were allowed to stay on the Market.. remember when CFLs cost $10 a piece a few years ago..now they are $1 a piece.. Same with Corn ethanol…allowed as a foundation but not the long term solution for ethanol..so they limited corn to 15 billion gallons.
     
    4. Next Generation ethanol production has begun.. the next 16 billion gallons a year by 2022 MUST come from next generation feedstocks (RFS Standards of the Energy and Security ACT of 2007) here is a image of the Production Mandates through 2022 http://e85prices.com/Img/ethanolfuelproduction.PNG
     
    5. Next Generation that has already Started ..a couple of my Favorites.
     
    Trash to Ethanol .. (yep Garbage you set out at the curb..Fiberight.com) They started their first Plant in Blairstown Ia this past summer (bought a failed corn ethanol plant and converted it to trash to ethanol)
    Coskata.com woodchips waste woods, corn stover , TRASH , Industrial waste and even Old Tires !..General Motors is invested in them
     
    Alagenol.com..they are working on the plans for their first Plant..  Algae ethanol..and claim they are getting 6,000 gallons an acre from their pilot plant and expect to get 10,000 Gallons of ethanol per acre ..compared to 400 for corn ! They are a couple years from production..Last I heard 2012.
     
    Just to give everyone a heads up on where ethanol is really going to be coming from and that corn is nothing more than the foundation.. a very GOOD foundation.
    In a few years you will start getting your ethanol from regional producers using regional feedstocks..the Coast may see Alage and trash to ethanol.. Places like Georgia and Oregon may see more waste forest wood and wood by products as it’s main feedstocks..  Cities will see a lot more  TRASH to ethanol plants ..(thats the Holy grail of ethanol production IMO) Midwest we use corn and field waste like corn stover and switchgrass.
     
    Point is dont get to hung up on corn whether you love it or hate it./it is only going to be one feedstock in a  few years instead of the Only feedstock like it was up to last year.
     
    Subsidies.. The VEETC is was 54 cents a few years ago, then 51 cents now 45 cents and is expected to be phased out completely with in a couple years..so another pointless debate unless of course you also want to mention the Subsides that we give Oil which far exceed anything ethanol has ever or will ever see.. The Military subsidy alone is worth trillions.. 16% of the energy we import comes from the Bloody Middle East (out of 68% we import).. The very fact that we are killing and being killed for the sake of Oil is ..moronic (let alone the money)
     
    There are roughly 9 million flex fuel vehicles already on the read and M, Ford says that 50% of their production will be E85 FFV by 2012 and 80% by 2015..a GM VP says it cost them roughly$40 per vehicle.. (Parts are all the same on a  FFV and a Non FFV ) They change the Cars computer software (fuel mapping and sometimes use larger injectors)
     
    Running vehicles on ethanol whether it is  10% , 15% , 40% or 85% just is not a big deal.. ethanol keeps your engine cleaner and cooler ..yes in current FFVs models you will see some lower MPGs and thats why PRICE does matter.
     
    Future FFVs will be more tuned for ethanol and getting better MPG..the 2011 Buick Regal 2.0 for example will get almost exactly the same mpg on E85 as on Gasoline .. will see more of that as the Auto Industry continues moving to higher compression and direct injection
    Jack one more consideration on your MPG test.. not sure what State you are in but Winter Blend E85 for Midwest and Northern States is actually E70-E75 so you may get slightly better mpg than you calculated.. makes that $2.29 E85 price go a bit further.
     
     
     
     
     

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I’ve seen E85 pumps here and there and they say in no uncertain terms that very bad things will happen if I put it in a car not designed as a flex fuel vehicle.  Are you suggesting they are fibbing?  Or are there flex fuel Town Cars?

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    Growing up on a farm, I never would have believed something as boring as corn would become such a hot cultural subject. The reason why so much more corn is grown in America compared to the rest of the world is because corn is a native crop. It was the most important staple for all agricultural Native American societies for thousands of years. It has remained the staple crop of the America’s from Canada to Peru. In addition it grows well in nearly all parts of the U.S, often without the need of irrigation (like here in Michigan).  There is nothing unnatural or unhealthy about eating corn. However when we take our corn and turn nearly all of it into red-meat and sugar, that is unhealthy. No one is recommending the all red-meat and sugar diet, regardless of what plant the sugar comes from.
    In regards to antibiotics in cows, its not that the corn itself is somehow poisoning or infecting the cows. Its the fact that a cow’s digestive system isn’t set up to digest hard dense grains like corn, its meant to digest grasses (like corn silage, and hay) the corn irritates and inflames the rumen, leading to infection, leading to the use of antibiotics.
    The fact is we have the potential and infrastructure to grow a virtually unlimited supply of this valuable crop. So, if stuffing it into cows, and then stuffing it into ourselves in the form of .99 cent double cheese burgers isn’t a healthy idea, maybe pumping it into our cars is. Or we could just cut back on the sugar and beef and eat allot more tortillas and corn flakes.

  • avatar

    Politics and economics aside, the technology for FFVs is really cool. As I understand it, there’s an infrared spectrometer built into the fuel lines that tells the ECU exactly what the composition of the fuel is, and the ECU adjusts accordingly.
     
    I wouldn’t object if all cars that ran on “gasoline” were fully FFV and could run on any of the alkanes or alcohols. It costs about $100/car for the technology and would create a market for butanol and methanol besides ethanol.
     
     
    NP: Greetings From Asbury Park – BS
    The woman strokes his polished chrome.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    On most Ford FFVs you will see a 12-13% loss in MPG on true E85. However in Oct in most parts of the country we are on the “winter blend” which is actually E70 even if the pump is still labeled E85, though you may be getting the “transition blend” of E74. On the winter or transition blend you should see a slightly smaller loss in MPG. Either way you will notice a bump in HP and more so TQ.
    The ulitimate blend however is in the E40-E50 range. In my FFV MPG actually improves 12-13% over gas. It will also yield even larger power increases.

  • avatar
    The Wedding DJ

    My 220,000 mile ’99 Plymouth Voyager has the 3.3 flex-fuel engine (R-code), and it states on the label inside the filler door that E85 is OK to use.  I wouldn’t mind trying it, but would it be a good idea this late in the van’s life?  Also, it has had an engine swap, and all I know is that it came from another van of similar vintage. Does the engine itself matter, or is it the peripherals that make it an FFV?


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