Tag: plastics

A ‘bionic leaf’ that turns sunlight into fuel


Excerpt from cnbc.com

By Robert Ferris



The invention could pave the way for numerous innovations—by converting solar power into biofuels, it may help solve the vexing difficulty of storing unused solar energy, which is one of the most common criticisms of solar power as a viable energy source.
The process could also help make plastics and other chemicals and substances useful to industry and research.


The current experiment builds on previous research led by Harvard engineer Daniel Nocera, who in 2011 demonstrated an "artificial leaf" device that uses solar power to generate usable energy. 

Nocera's original invention was a wafer-like electrode suspended in water. When a current runs through the electrode from a power source such as a solar panel, for example, it causes the water to break down into its two components: hydrogen and oxygen. 

Nocera's device garnered a lot of attention for opening up the possibility of using sunlight to create hydrogen fuel—once considered a possible alternative to gasoline. 

But hydrogen has not taken off as a fuel source, even as other alternative energy sources survive and grow amid historically low oil prices. Hydrogen is expensive to transport, and the costs of adopting and distributing hydrogen are high. A gas station owner could more easily switch a pump from gasoline to biofuel, for example.


Now, Nocera and a team of Harvard researchers figured out how to use the bionic leaf to make a burnable biofuel, according to a study published Monday in the journal PNAS. The biologists on the team genetically modified a strain of bacteria that consumes hydrogen and produces isopropanol—the active ingredient in rubbing alcohol. In doing so, they successfully mimicked the natural process of photosynthesis—the way plants use energy from the sun to survive and grow.

This makes two things possible that have always been serious challenges for alternative energy space—solar energy can be converted into a storable form of energy, and the hydrogen can generate a more easily used fuel.


To be sure, the bionic leaf developments are highly unlikely to replace fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas any time soon—especially as the prices of both are currently so low. But it could be a good supplemental source. 

"One idea Dan [Nocera] and I share, which might seem a little wacky, is personalized energy" that doesn't rely on the power grid, biochemist Pamela Silver, who participated in the study, told CNBC in a telephone interview. 


Typically, people's energy needs are met by central energy production facilities—they get their electricity from the power grid, which is fed by coal- or gas-burning power plants, or solar farms, for example. Silver said locally produced energy could be feasible in developing countries that lack stable energy infrastructure, or could even appeal to people who choose to live off the grid.

"Instead of having to buy and store fuel, you can have your bucket of bacteria in your backyard," Silver said. 

Besides, the experiment was an attempt at proof-of-concept—the scientists wanted to demonstrate what could be done, Silver said. Now that they have mastered this process, further possibilities can be explored.  

"No insult to chemists, but biology is the best chemist there is, so we don't even know what we can make," said Silver. "We can make drugs, materials—we are just at the tip of the iceberg." 

The team hopes to develop many different kinds of bacteria that can produce all sorts of substances. That would mean, potentially at least, setting up the bionic leaf device and then plugging in whatever kind of bacteria might be needed at the moment.

For now, they want to increase the efficiency of the device, which is already much more efficient at photosynthesizing than plants are. Then they will focus on developing other kinds of bacteria to plug into the device.

"The uber goal, which is probably 20 years out," Silver said, "is converting the commodity industry away from petroleum."

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6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World


Graphene

Excerpt from gizmodo.com

Graphene isn't the only game-changing material to come out of a lab. From aerogels nearly as light as air to metamaterials that manipulate light, here are six supermaterials that have the potential to transform the world of the future.

Self-healing Materials — Bioinspired Plastics

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
Self-healing plastic. Image credit: UIUC


The human body is very good at fixing itself. The built environment is not. Scott White at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champlain has been engineering bioinspired plastics that can self-heal. Last year, White's lab created a new polymer that oozes to repair a visible hole. The polymer is embedded with a vascular system of liquids that when broken and combined, clot just like blood. While other materials have been able to heal microscopic cracks, this new one repaired a hole 4 millimeter wide with cracks radiating all around it. Not big deal for a human skin, but a pretty big deal for plastic.

Engineers have also been envisioning concrete, asphalt, and metal that can heal themselves. (Imagine a city with no more potholes!) The rub, of course, lies in making them cheap enough to actually use, which is why the first applications for self-healing materials are most likely to be in space or in remote areas on Earth. 

Thermoelectric Materials — Heat Scavengers

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
Power blocks with thermoelectric material sued inside Alphabet Energy 's generator. Image credit: Alphabet Energy


If you've ever had a laptop burn up in your lap or touched the hot hood of car, then you've felt evidence of waste. Waste heat is the inevitable effect of running any that device that uses power. One estimate puts the amount of waste heat as two-thirds of all energy used. But what if there was a way to capture all that wasted energy? The answer to that "what if" is thermoelectric materials, which makes electricity from a temperature gradient.

Last year, California-based Alphabet Energy introduced a thermoelectric generator that plugs right into the exhaust pipe of ordinary generator, turning waste heat back into useful electricity. Alphabet Energy's generator uses a relatively cheap and naturally occurring thermoelectric material called tetrahedrite. Alphabet Energy says tetrahedrite can reach 5 to 10 percent efficiency.
Back in the lab, scientists have also been tinkering with another promising and possibly even more efficient thermoelectric material called skutterudite, which is a type of mineral that contains cobalt. Thermoelectric materials have already had niche applications—like on spacecraft—but skutterudite could get cheap and efficient enough to be wrapped around the exhaust pipes of cars or fridges or any other power-hogging machine you can think of. [Nature, MIT Technology Review, New Scientist]

Perovskites — Cheap Solar Cells

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
Solar cells made of perovskites. Image credit: University of Oxford


The biggest hurdle in moving toward renewable energy is, as these things always are, money. Solar power is getting ever cheaper, but making a plant's worth of solar cells from crystalline silicon is still an expensive, energy-intensive process. There's an alternative material that has the solar world buzzing though, and that's perovskites. 

Perovskites were first discovered over a century ago, but scientists are only just realizing its potential. In 2009, solar cells made from perovskites had a solar energy conversion efficiency of a measly 3.8 percent. In 2014, the number had leapt to 19.3 percent. That may not seem like much compared to traditional crystalline silicon cells with efficiencies hovering around 20 percent, but there's two other crucial points to consider: 1) perovskites have made such leaps and bounds in efficiency in just a few years that scientist think it can get even better and 2) perovskites are much, much cheaper. 

Perovskites are a class of materials defined by a particular crystalline structure. They can contain any number of elements, usually lead and tin for perovskites used in solar cells. These raw materials are cheap compared to crystalline silicon, and they can be sprayed onto glass rather than meticulously assembled in clean rooms. Oxford Photovoltaics is one of the leading companies trying to commercialize perovskites, which as wonderful as they have been in the lab, still do need to hold up in the real world. [WSJ, IEEE Spectrum, Chemical & Engineering News, Nature Materials]

Aerogels — Superlight and Strong

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
Image credit: NASA

Aerogels look like they should not be real. Although ghostly and ethereal, they can easily withstand the heat of a blowtorch and the weight of a car. The material is almost what exactly the name implies: gels where where the liquid has been replaced entirely by air. But you can see why it's also been called "frozen smoke" or "blue smoke." The actual matrix of an aerogel can be made of any number of substances, including silica, metal oxides, and, yes, also graphene. But the fact that aerogel is actually mostly made of air means that it's an excellent insulator (see: blowtorch). Its structure also makes it incredibly strong (see: car).

Aerogels do have one fatal flaw though: brittleness, especially when made from silica. But NASA scientists have been experimenting with flexible aerogels made of polymers to use insulators for spacecraft burning through the atmosphere. Mixing other compounds into even silica-based aerogels could make them more flexible. Add that to aerogel's lightness, strength, and insulating qualities, and that's one incredible material. [New Scientist, Gizmodo]

Metamaterials — Light Manipulators

If you've heard of metamaterials, you likely heard about it in a sentence that also mentioned "Harry Potter" and "invisibility cloak." And indeed, metamaterials, whose nanostructures are design to scatter light in specific ways, could possibly one day be used to render objects invisible—though it still probably wouldn't be as magical as Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. 

What's more interesting about metamaterials is that they don't just redirect visible light. Depending on how and what a particular metamaterial is made of, it can also scatter microwaves, radiowaves, or the little-known T-rays, which are between microwaves and infrared light on the electromagnetic spectrum. Any piece of electromagnetic spectrum could be manipulated by metamaterials. 

That could be, for example, new T-ray scanners in medicine or security or a compact radio antennae made of metamaterials whose properties change on the fly. Metamaterials are at the promising but frustrating cusp where the theoretical possibilities are endless, but commercialization is still a long, hard road. [Nature, Discover Magazine]

Stanene — 100 percent efficient conductor

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
The molecular structure of stanene. Image credit: SLAC


Like the much better known graphene, stanene is also made of a single layer of atoms. But instead of carbon, stanene is made of tin, and this makes all the difference in allowing stanene to possibly do what even wondermaterial extraordinaire graphene cannot: conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency.

Stanene was first theorized in 2013 by Stanford professor Shoucheng Zhang, whose lab specializes in, along other things, predicting the electronic properties of materials like stanene. According to their models, stanene is a topological insulator, which means its edges are a conductor and its inside is an insulator. (Think of a chocolate-covered ice cream bar. Chocolate conductor, ice cream insulator.) 

This means stanene could conduct electricity with zero resistance even, crucially, at room temperature. Stanene's properties have yet to been tested experimentally—making a single-atom sheet tin is no easy task—but several of Zhang's predictions about other topological insulators have proven correct.

If the predictions about stanene bear out, it could revolutionize the microchips inside all your devices. Namely, the chips could get a lot more powerful. Silicon chips are limited by the heat created by electrons zipping around—work 'em too fast and they'll simply get too hot. Stanene, which conducts electricity 100 percent efficiency, would have no such problem. [SLAC, Physical Review Letters, Scientific American]

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The New American Dream ~ The Case for Colonizing Mars




Excerpt from Ad Astra

by Robert Zubrin


Mars Is The New World

Among extraterrestrial bodies in our solar system, Mars is singular in that it possesses all the raw materials required to support not only life, but a new branch of human civilization. This uniqueness is illustrated most clearly if we contrast Mars with the Earth's Moon, the most frequently cited alternative location for extraterrestrial human colonization.

In contrast to the Moon, Mars is rich in carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, all in biologically readily accessible forms such as carbon dioxide gas, nitrogen gas, and water ice and permafrost. Carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen are only present on the Moon in parts per million quantities, much like gold in seawater. Oxygen is abundant on the Moon, but only in tightly bound oxides such as silicon dioxide (SiO2), ferrous oxide (Fe2O3), magnesium oxide (MgO), and aluminum oxide (Al2O3), which require very high energy processes to reduce.

The Moon is also deficient in about half the metals of interest to industrial society (copper, for example), as well as many other elements of interest such as sulfur and phosphorus. Mars has every required element in abundance. Moreover, on Mars, as on Earth, hydrologic and volcanic processes have occurred that are likely to have consolidated various elements into local concentrations of high-grade mineral ore. Indeed, the geologic history of Mars has been compared to that of Africa, with very optimistic inferences as to its mineral wealth implied as a corollary. In contrast, the Moon has had virtually no history of water or volcanic action, with the result that it is basically composed of trash rocks with very little differentiation into ores that represent useful concentrations of anything interesting.

You can generate power on either the Moon or Mars with solar panels, and here the advantages of the Moon's clearer skies and closer proximity to the Sun than Mars roughly balances the disadvantage of large energy storage requirements created by the Moon's 28-day light-dark cycle. But if you wish to manufacture solar panels, so as to create a self-expanding power base, Mars holds an enormous advantage, as only Mars possesses the large supplies of carbon and hydrogen needed to produce the pure silicon required for producing photovoltaic panels and other electronics. In addition, Mars has the potential for wind-generated power while the Moon clearly does not. But both solar and wind offer relatively modest power potential — tens or at most hundreds of kilowatts here or there. To create a vibrant civilization you need a richer power base, and this Mars has both in the short and medium term in the form of its geothermal power resources, which offer potential for large numbers of locally created electricity generating stations in the 10 MW (10,000 kilowatt) class. In the long-term, Mars will enjoy a power-rich economy based upon exploitation of its large domestic resources of deuterium fuel for fusion reactors. Deuterium is five times more common on Mars than it is on Earth, and tens of thousands of times more common on Mars than on the Moon.

But the biggest problem with the Moon, as with all other airless planetary bodies and proposed artificial free-space colonies, is that sunlight is not available in a form useful for growing crops. A single acre of plants on Earth requires four megawatts of sunlight power, a square kilometer needs 1,000 MW. The entire world put together does not produce enough electrical power to illuminate the farms of the state of Rhode Island, that agricultural giant. Growing crops with electrically generated light is just economically hopeless. But you can't use natural sunlight on the Moon or any other airless body in space unless you put walls on the greenhouse thick enough to shield out solar flares, a requirement that enormously increases the expense of creating cropland. Even if you did that, it wouldn't do you any good on the Moon, because plants won't grow in a light/dark cycle lasting 28 days.

But on Mars there is an atmosphere thick enough to protect crops grown on the surface from solar flare. Therefore, thin-walled inflatable plastic greenhouses protected by unpressurized UV-resistant hard-plastic shield domes can be used to rapidly create cropland on the surface. Even without the problems of solar flares and month-long diurnal cycle, such simple greenhouses would be impractical on the Moon as they would create unbearably high temperatures. On Mars, in contrast, the strong greenhouse effect created by such domes would be precisely what is necessary to produce a temperate climate inside. Such domes up to 50 meters in diameter are light enough to be transported from Earth initially, and later on they can be manufactured on Mars out of indigenous materials. Because all the resources to make plastics exist on Mars, networks of such 50- to 100-meter domes could be rapidly manufactured and deployed, opening up large areas of the surface to both shirtsleeve human habitation and agriculture. That's just the beginning, because it will eventually be possible for humans to substantially thicken Mars' atmosphere by forcing the regolith to outgas its contents through a deliberate program of artificially induced global warming. Once that has been accomplished, the habitation domes could be virtually any size, as they would not have to sustain a pressure differential between their interior and exterior. In fact, once that has been done, it will be possible to raise specially bred crops outside the domes.

The point to be made is that unlike colonists on any known extraterrestrial body, Martian colonists will be able to live on the surface, not in tunnels, and move about freely and grow crops in the light of day. Mars is a place where humans can live and multiply to large numbers, supporting themselves with products of every description made out of indigenous materials. Mars is thus a place where an actual civilization, not just a mining or scientific outpost, can be developed. And significantly for interplanetary commerce, Mars and Earth are the only two locations in the solar system where humans will be able to grow crops for export.

Interplanetary Commerce

Mars is the best target for colonization in the solar system because it has by far the greatest potential for self-sufficiency. Nevertheless, even with optimistic extrapolation of robotic manufacturing techniques, Mars will not have the division of labor required to make it fully self-sufficient until its population numbers in the millions. Thus, for decades and perhaps longer, it will be necessary, and forever desirable, for Mars to be able to import specialized manufactured goods from Earth. These goods can be fairly limited in mass, as only small portions (by weight) of even very high-tech goods are actually complex. Nevertheless, these smaller sophisticated items will have to be paid for, and the high costs of Earth-launch and interplanetary transport will greatly increase their price. What can Mars possibly export back to Earth in return?
It is this question that has caused many to incorrectly deem Mars colonization intractable, or at least inferior in prospect to the Moon.

For example, much has been made of the fact that the Moon has indigenous supplies of helium-3, an isotope not found on Earth and which could be of considerable value as a fuel for second generation thermonuclear fusion reactors. Mars has no known helium-3 resources. On the other hand, because of its complex geologic history, Mars may have concentrated mineral ores, with much greater concentrations of precious metal ores readily available than is currently the case on Earth — because the terrestrial ores have been heavily scavenged by humans for the past 5,000 years. If concentrated supplies of metals of equal or greater value than silver (such as germanium, hafnium, lanthanum, cerium, rhenium, samarium, gallium, gadolinium, gold, palladium, iridium, rubidium, platinum, rhodium, europium, and a host of others) were available on Mars, they could potentially be transported back to Earth for a substantial profit. Reusable Mars-surface based single-stage-to-orbit vehicles would haul cargoes to Mars orbit for transportation to Earth via either cheap expendable chemical stages manufactured on Mars or reusable cycling solar or magnetic sail-powered interplanetary spacecraft. The existence of such Martian precious metal ores, however, is still hypothetical.

But there is one commercial resource that is known to exist ubiquitously on Mars in large amount — deuterium. Deuterium, the heavy isotope of hydrogen, occurs as 166 out of every million hydrogen atoms on Earth, but comprises 833 out of every million hydrogen atoms on Mars. Deuterium is the key fuel not only for both first and second generation fusion reactors, but it is also an essential material needed by the nuclear power industry today. Even with cheap power, deuterium is very expensive; its current market value on Earth is about $10,000 per kilogram, roughly fifty times as valuable as silver or 70% as valuable as gold. This is in today's pre-fusion economy. Once fusion reactors go into widespread use deuterium prices will increase. All the in-situ chemical processes required to produce the fuel, oxygen, and plastics necessary to run a Mars settlement require water electrolysis as an intermediate step. As a by product of these operations, millions, perhaps billions, of dollars worth of deuterium will be produced.

Ideas may be another possible export for Martian colonists. Just as the labor shortage prevalent in colonial and nineteenth century America drove the creation of "Yankee ingenuity's" flood of inventions, so the conditions of extreme labor shortage combined with a technological culture that shuns impractical legislative constraints against innovation will tend to drive Martian ingenuity to produce wave after wave of invention in energy production, automation and robotics, biotechnology, and other areas. These inventions, licensed on Earth, could finance Mars even as they revolutionize and advance terrestrial living standards as forcefully as nineteenth century American invention changed Europe and ultimately the rest of the world as well.

Inventions produced as a matter of necessity by a practical intellectual culture stressed by frontier conditions can make Mars rich, but invention and direct export to Earth are not the only ways that Martians will be able to make a fortune. The other route is via trade to the asteroid belt, the band of small, mineral-rich bodies lying between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. There are about 5,000 asteroids known today, of which about 98% are in the "Main Belt" lying between Mars and Jupiter, with an average distance from the Sun of about 2.7 astronomical units, or AU. (The Earth is 1.0 AU from the Sun.) Of the remaining two percent known as the near-Earth asteroids, about 90% orbit closer to Mars than to the Earth. Collectively, these asteroids represent an enormous stockpile of mineral wealth in the form of platinum group and other valuable metals.


Historical Analogies

The primary analogy I wish to draw is that Mars is to the new age of exploration as North America was to the last. The Earth's Moon, close to the metropolitan planet but impoverished in resources, compares to Greenland. Other destinations, such as the Main Belt asteroids, may be rich in potential future exports to Earth but lack the preconditions for the creation of a fully developed indigenous society; these compare to the West Indies. Only Mars has the full set of resources required to develop a native civilization, and only Mars is a viable target for true colonization. Like America in its relationship to Britain and the West Indies, Mars has a positional advantage that will allow it to participate in a useful way to support extractive activities on behalf of Earth in the asteroid belt and elsewhere.

But despite the shortsighted calculations of eighteenth-century European statesmen and financiers, the true value of America never was as a logistical support base for West Indies sugar and spice trade, inland fur trade, or as a potential market for manufactured goods. The true value of America was as the future home for a new branch of human civilization, one that as a combined result of its humanistic antecedents and its frontier conditions was able to develop into the most powerful engine for human progress and economic growth the world had ever seen. The wealth of America was in fact that she could support people, and that the right kind of people chose to go to her. People create wealth. People are wealth and power. Every feature of Frontier American life that acted to create a practical can-do culture of innovating people will apply to Mars a hundred-fold.

Mars is a harsher place than any on Earth. But provided one can survive the regimen, it is the toughest schools that are the best. The Martians shall do well.



Robert Zubrin is former Chairman of the National Space Society, President of the Mars Society, and author of The Case For Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must.

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Consuming Canned Foods Increases Toxic Exposure 1000 Fold

April McCarthy, Prevent DiseaseConsuming a daily serving of canned food products has a more than 1,000% increase in urinary bisphenol A (BPA) concentrations compared with when the same individuals consumed fresh food daily. The study is one of the first to quantify BPA levels in humans after ingestion of canned foods.The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).In 2009, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, a Washington-based trade [...]

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Zeolites: the natural detoxifyer

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by Dr. David Jockers

(NaturalNews) Zeolite is a naturally forming microporous, aluminosilicate mineral combination that is found in rock deposits around the world. Zeolite comes from the Greek word for 'boiling stones' ...

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Numerous chemicals linked to difficulty losing weight

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by Kim Evans See all articles by this author

(NaturalNews) As the old thinking goes, obesity is linked to improper diets, too much food, and not enough exercise. And while the old thinking may not be inaccurate, it also doesn&#...

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AA Michael through Dreamwalker: The Way Back is the Way Forward

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Jan 10

You are light form in the heavens. There is nothing stopping you from your journey. I AM Michael. There is much to be joyful for, be thankful, enjoy yourselves. You are a light cadre and you will not be suppressed, nor deni...

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THE SANDMAN PROJECT: I invoke the I AM God presence within me….

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January 2, 2012

I invoke the I AM God presence within me….

May all negative attempts to control me or the world be returned with love magnified a thousand times a thousand fold.

May all wh...

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Aghartha In The Hollow Earth!

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The Inner Earth & Realm of Aghartha

Aghartha In The Hollow Earth!

By Dr Joshua David Stone

The biggest cover-up of all time is the fact that there is a civilization of people living in the center of Earth, whose c...

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How Air Fresheners Are Killing You

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Written by Sarah Cain    Thursday, 24 September 2009 18:19

 Most people go to extremes ensuring a clean environment for themselves and their families.  In this quest, people tend to misguidedly trust in chemist...

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Understand what BPA is

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by Carlos Greene See all articles by this author Email this author

(NaturalNews) Warnings against Bisphenol (BPA)-containing plastics are rampant. Most people understand that BPA should be avoided. But do people understand...

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Study finds money contaminated with BPA

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(NaturalNews) A new test conducted by the Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has revealed that the plastics chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) is most likely lurking in your wallet. Accor...

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Heart @ Work – Childish Christmas Joy

I found her perched on my work bench the moment I came in and gently laid Netty on the opposite desk. Since she needed to preserve her strength to play with me on the road home, which as I found out just now will probably be long and winding..... No...

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