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Thread: Batteries and solar power charging

  1. #1
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    Default Batteries and solar power charging

    Guys just after a good solar power charger and storage for charging eneloops, 18650 batteries, sat phones, occasionally laptops etc. Not trying to run refrigerators or major appliances etc. A bit in the dark on this subject. Looking at two size ranges, one for backpacking and maybe a mobile system for car camping(unless backpacking versions can do all the above?) preferably durable and longlife items, like the 'malkoff' of solar setups. If anyone has a stickylink to this sort of question posted anywhere on the internet, please feel free to quote it.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Bad news is that there's no "the one" to get.

    Goal Zero is the company/products that others are usually measured against. It's a good place to start looking, to get more familiar with what's out there.

    While I don't have a specific product in mind, here's some good things to be aware of:

    There are different types of panels, and some can work significantly better than others, especially in less than ideal situations, like overcast weather. Looking for backpacking equipment to use in Norway, this is pretty significant to me. It doesn't take a lot to slowly charge an 18650, and getting some juice can be a major upgrade from getting one.

    You'd take a loss storing energy rather than charging directly, but for almost all cases, I think you're in the right path. Being able to spend more time actually capturing the energy, means you'd probably offset the loss.

    Foldable panels (or some of them) can have weak parts that'll break with repeated usage. Quality here can vary widely between "flex film" type rollups, and cheaper Chinese foldable.

    Some solutions allows you to connect multiple panels. That could give you the option of bringing one panel when backpacking, using two of them when car camping, and letting one be backup for the other.

    For car usage, you also have the option of bringing your car battery into the mix. You could charge 18650s off of the car battery, let solar trickle charge it back up, and running your engine then becomes a nice backup energy source. There are panels made specifically for this, including easily connecting through the cigarette lighter type port, but some of those are "smart" these days, which might complicate things.

    If you have the budget for it, it'd probably try to have that method as a separate solution, mostly for backup.

    Charge controllers are important, although it can be hard to figure out how each one would perform in different situations.

    Will it still deliver some juice in less than ideals situations, or would it shut down? Could it even drain the batteries when shut down?

    One good sign to look for is MPPT - Maximum Power Point Tracking. Just like with batteries, if you pull too much amperage from a solar panel, the voltage will sag. Go too far, and the voltage would collapse to nothing, giving you zero energy. MPPT is about changing the load that the panel sees, to get the maximum amount of energy, rather than trying to pull too much amperage, and causing such a collapse. It can go "if I reduce the amperage a bit, I'll get higher voltage, and more energy in total, yay!".

    There used to be an interesting company here: http://www.aspectsolar.com

    But they seem to have gone now. :-/

    Oh, and portable solar is often based around either 5V (USB) or 12V (car batteries, 12V accessories). Some support one, some support both well, some support both badly. Worth keeping in mind.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    If your looking for a broad range of uses, you should check out www.goalzero.com
    Although there are so many options, that some reading is recommended (=

  4. #4

    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Check out Suntactics.

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    Flashaholic Keitho's Avatar
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Anyone have experience with powerfilm? They seem expensive, but high actual wattage for the weight.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by Keitho View Post
    Anyone have experience with powerfilm? They seem expensive, but high actual wattage for the weight.
    I have no direct experience, but I've been following them for years. Their reputation is good, they seem more robust and reliable than comparable cheaper products, and at least a few years ago they were said to be among the better in less than optimal conditions.

    A lot of their products as "raw" though, providing unregulated output. Some you can connect directly to car batteries for example, but that's often less than optimal.

    I really want one, but I haven't (yet) found the perfect thing to pair it with. Ideally I'd want MPPT, efficient storage (think advanced power bank) and also USB and 12V output.

    Best use for me at least, would be if I could use it to charge 18650s and phones directly, while excess energy recharged a power bank. All in a very small package offcourse.

    Idea could be something like powerfilm panels, but built out to a solution more like this:
    https://www.voltaicsystems.com/arc20w-kit
    (Might be interesting in it's own right).

  7. #7

    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    I think the issue you will have is that charging lithium ion and eneloops you can use a 5v setup and panel for that purpose but the laptop is going to be a problem as most likely it will desire around 18-20v input from an AC 120v source so you will either have to go with an inverter and a 12v type panel setup or some sort of 12v car charger solution (boost converter) and a 12v panel. A laptop charger usually wants a pretty high current input also don't look to be recharging it off a "backpack" type of setup decently for it.
    You will have losses in converting voltage for the laptop that will be substantial for sure.
    Basically solar charging usually hinges around 5v or 12v setups and either auto adapters and/or USB solutions. 12v is easier to source but I think USB solutions (5v) is the best all around if you can manage everything with it.
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    Flashaholic Keitho's Avatar
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by terjee View Post
    A lot of their products as "raw" though, providing unregulated output. Some you can connect directly to car batteries for example, but that's often less than optimal.

    I really want one, but I haven't (yet) found the perfect thing to pair it with. Ideally I'd want MPPT, efficient storage (think advanced power bank) and also USB and 12V output.
    I was thinking the same thing, terjee; if I could find a little MPPT box or a card that I could put between a powerfilm panel and a USB device (phone, 18650 charger, power bank, whatever), it might be fun to play with as a DIY project for car camping or a teardrop camper. I had a hard time finding one the last time I looked around...

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    You are really looking at two different scenarios here. One, if by camping you mean going hiking and camping at a different spot every night, then you will want a small portable solar panel with about 10w to 20w output, usually USB only. Some are just solar cells and a USB jack, which is not what you want. Look for one that manages the output so it can handle temporary shading, etc., better. On the other hand, fixed location camping or home power outage use one has more options. One could always use the same type of panels as the mobile option, maybe a little larger for more output. Or, more ideally, several companies offer portable rigid solar panels in a briefcase/suitcase kind of setup. [See GoalZero and Renogy]. The rigid panels are more than likely going to be 18v nominal output, and need a charge controller to charge an attached battery properly. This type of setup will allow one to connect several panels in parallel for more output. The usual setup is a single panel, charge controller, and one or more 12v batteries connected in parallel. The charge controller should use either PWM or MPPT, will usually have one or more USB jacks as well as a 12v output. It is also possible to connect two of such panels in series, in order to charge two 12v batteries also connected in series. Usually, this is only done when one is going to use two or more pairs of panels for increased output and storage, at which point one is rapidly approaching a permanent use setup.

    In any case, panels using monocrystalline cells will provide more output than ones using polycrystalline cells. The monocrystalline cells are higher efficiency, but at a higher cost as well. There have been several good threads here on this topic that are very enlightening. My hero is Chris, who has a very nice power outage setup for his home. Living in Florida, his setup is designed to carry him through an outage of several days, as often occurs in hurricanes. He also has a more portable setup as well.
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Well, 12vdc vs. 5v USB for starters?

    PowerFilm, Goal Zero, Brunton, Global Solar, SunTastics and then the generic type brands.

    Then your budget?

    I wanted a PowerFilm 30w 12vdc folder back five years ago when I put my 12vdc system into place and just settled for two 30w rigid panels from a decent maker--Soplay. I got a Morningstar SS-10-L PWM digital controller and put my system together. It's a car camping/SHTF hurricane system and is small enough to carry down to the condo grounds if the power goes out.

    I got two mother batteries--SLA AGM 12Ah and 22Ah for my 12vdc chargers.

    I then got a little 14w Sunkingdom 5v USB charger for my USB chargers and that is portable.

    With battery banks, mother batteries, chargers (12vdc/5v USB) I'm covered.

    I have a post up with newly installed pictures if you want to search.

    Lots of ways to skin a cat, so money/needs are the deciding factor.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by Keitho View Post
    I was thinking the same thing, terjee; if I could find a little MPPT box or a card that I could put between a powerfilm panel and a USB device (phone, 18650 charger, power bank, whatever), it might be fun to play with as a DIY project for car camping or a teardrop camper. I had a hard time finding one the last time I looked around...
    Keep in mind that there are issues with using any kind of MPPT when it comes to charging USB devices or 18650s. MPPT is generally used in residential, commercial, and utility systems, where rather large amounts of power can be dumped back on the grid. This is advantageous, since it improves the return on investment in the system. But charging USB devices and 18650s is different. Neither can simply take all you can dump on them. USB devices (like phones) can generally only take specific amounts of current. And 18650s (and other Li-Ion batteries) have definite limits on charging current. In other words, you DON'T want something that is going to force more current through these devices when the sun gets bright just because the power is now 'there' to do so. That's why even expensive USB chargers don't use MPPT.
    Last edited by StorminMatt; 08-20-2017 at 03:51 PM.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by StorminMatt View Post
    Keep in mind that there are issues with using any kind of MPPT when it comes to charging USB devices or 18650s. MPPT is generally used in residential, commercial, and utility systems, where rather large amounts of power can be dumped back on the grid. This is advantageous, since it improves the return on investment in the system. But charging USB devices and 18650s is different. Neither can simply take all you can dump on them. USB devices (like phones) can generally only take specific amounts of current. And 18650s (and other Li-Ion batteries) have definite limits on charging current. In other words, you DON'T want something that is going to force more current through these devices when the sun gets bright just because the power is now 'there' to do so. That's why even expensive USB chargers don't use MPPT.
    And MPPT digital controllers have a microprocessor inside that drains power on its own, so if you're already dealing with small amounts of current, the MPPT controllers might be doing more harm, than good, vis-a-vis useable current going to your devices.

    PWM controllers for something like my 60w rigid setup made more sense, especially economical sense.

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    Flashaholic* Timothybil's Avatar
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    I forgot to add that for many, having a USB output solar panel implies using it to charge a power bank rather than via direct connect. There is a problem with some USB devices where if the charging current is lowered or interrupted, the device will stop charging until it is disconnected and reconnected. It is my understanding that some Apple phones do this. Whereas most power banks will just keep charging with whatever they are getting at the time, up to their max input current. Over the years I have acquired three power banks, so I always have one fully charged, one fully charged or charging, and one in use to charge other devices.
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by Timothybil View Post
    I forgot to add that for many, having a USB output solar panel implies using it to charge a power bank rather than via direct connect. There is a problem with some USB devices where if the charging current is lowered or interrupted, the device will stop charging until it is disconnected and reconnected. It is my understanding that some Apple phones do this. Whereas most power banks will just keep charging with whatever they are getting at the time, up to their max input current. Over the years I have acquired three power banks, so I always have one fully charged, one fully charged or charging, and one in use to charge other devices.
    Very good point on the stooping charging. There are some panel controllers that try to sense this, and disconnect/reconnect, in order to trigger it to charge again. Using a powerbank as a go-between makes more sense to me though, allowing it to always capture until full, without the phone having to stay stationary. The reconnect could still be interesting though, if your phone is empty, and you'd want to avoid the losses of going through a power bank.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Great response to the question thanks. I am still digesting and researching what has been written so I can reply adequately.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Hi gents I have decided for this project to stick to 5v systems and charging smaller devices, batteries up to 18650's. (Laptops and heavier items off the list, I'll use mini generators and powerpaks for home type SHTF) I'm also not looking for ultralight backpackable version so much now. Chasing something still mobile but heavier duty/more durable would be good. My budget is $1000 so after a decent setup. I don't need lots of power but would pay for the ultimate in durability. Have been checking out the lifetime of solar panels and wondered if its reasonable to assume these panels( and their electronic parts) might make the 10 year mark? I am checking out the links for goalzero etc and will see what I can come up with.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by mickb View Post
    Have been checking out the lifetime of solar panels and wondered if its reasonable to assume these panels( and their electronic parts) might make the 10 year mark? I am checking out the links for goalzero etc and will see what I can come up with.
    Half-jokingly, but with a point; You can't ever assume anything will last 10 years. At the very least it requires some care and tending to.

    Beyond that, with the possible exception of electrolytic caps in the electronics, most would last 10 if left on a shelf. If heavily used on the other hand, things becomes much more complicated. How often and how hard will it be used and handles? In what weather? And so on.

    A carefully used panel of a good brand, with no joints/foldings, I'd expect functioning in 10 years. A cheap foldable one on the other hand, could fail in one. Personally I've landed on redundant panels probably being the way to go. :-)

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    One thing I have found is often the simpler the charger the better it works with solar. Solar power can be intermittent. Sometimes a charger can trigger an error during passing clouds which will require it being unplugged then plugged back in. This can be problematic if away from camp or busy around the house. Xtar MC1 plus being evaluated for solar compatibility with both naked and protected lithium ion batteries.






    Notice how I keep the battery behind the panel out of the sun.



    edit to add. The MC1 Plus appears to be solar compatible per my testing.
    Last edited by Woods Walker; 09-03-2017 at 11:28 PM.
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    A lot of power banks refuse charging and usage at the same time. Some even have a mechanical slider to prevent connecting both charger and load at the same time.

    Anyone have good experiences with powerbanks that explicitly support it?

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by terjee View Post
    A lot of power banks refuse charging and usage at the same time. Some even have a mechanical slider to prevent connecting both charger and load at the same time.

    Anyone have good experiences with powerbanks that explicitly support it?
    Some do have pass though charging but that will increase the probability of a charge error with the secondary device. Mycharge Rugged Power and the Nitecore F1 both have pass though charging and solar compatable.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by Woods Walker View Post
    Some do have pass though charging but that will increase the probability of a charge error with the secondary device. Mycharge Rugged Power and the Nitecore F1 both have pass though charging and solar compatable.
    Was thinking more along the lines of a powerbank that used the internal battery to pick up the slack when solar is low for example, so you'd get increased reliability, not reduced. Similar to what you'd see with a line interactive UPS for example.

    Good points btw. :-)

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by terjee View Post
    Was thinking more along the lines of a powerbank that used the internal battery to pick up the slack when solar is low for example, so you'd get increased reliability, not reduced. Similar to what you'd see with a line interactive UPS for example.

    Good points btw. :-)
    Here is the pass though charging info on the F1 which is one of my most overall reliable solar charger and powerbank.

    "The Intelligent Charging1. F1 can automatically identify the type of the installed battery. Under sufficient input power, F1 will charge abattery of large capacity in the slot with 1000mA current, or a battery of small capacity in the slot with500mA current.2. F1 features intelligent USB charging management system. Under sufficient input power, F1 cansimultaneously charge a battery in the slot and a connected external device (with 1000mA current). Withlower input power, F1 can charge the battery with 500mA current, and charge the external device with1000mA current.3. With the input power insufficient to support charging two items simultaneously, F1 will charge the batteryonly with 500mA current. After battery charging completed, F1 will proceed to charge the connectedexternal device."
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  23. #23
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    10W 6V panel
    4x AA
    Nitecore F2

    Panel tied to 4AA cells
    Nitecore f2 can charge 2x 18650.

    Nite core is powered by the 4AA batteries.

    This is a little DIY, but not bad.

    The trick here is the F2 can do pass through charging.
    The solar pannel can charge the AA batteries and take variances in sun and shade. And you unplug the AA cells from the solar panel when not in use.

    The nite core can be used and will take any extra charge not in use and charge the 2x 18650s. But if you need to charge something the F2 will pull from 18650s. But if the device does not need much power, the 18650s will charge if the F2 is connected to the AA batteries.

    I do this and it works.
    My set up is a little different though.

    I do 10W 6V pannel.
    4x D
    F1 charger.

    I can charge 18650s one at a time, and charge an iPhone, or iPad.

    I can charge an iPhone from dead easily and last the weekend.

    This setup is like $70.

    I know you can get more complicated. But you really have to look at your needs and this is a very minimal approach.

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    The F2 proved to be a total solar failure in my testing. It's one of the worst so far. If the sun is interpreted it shuts down totally and surprisingly. If the interruption or reduction in power goes on for 1 minutes (sometimes 2 but other times under 1) it goes into a fatal solar crash aka charge error. It then needs to be unplugged to be reset. Totally not solar compatible unless the sky is cloudless or it's babied constantly. I am doing a review of the F2 and was disappointed in this.

    The pass through charge function actually causes issues for the F1 but have not gotten around to testing this on the F2. iPhones are no longer solar compatible after a recent update. Will go through that in the upcoming thread. Any interruption on power triggers this error and it happens even more so with pass through charging in my testing as interruption are easier.

    The pass through charge error with the F1 isn't fatal. When the power drips I believe the F1 charges at .5 amps sending the rest of the power to the device (tested and verified for my original F1 review). But what I didn't know during the initial F1 review is any interruption in power triggers that .5 amp charging if the pass though is being used or not. So very easily the F1 goes from a 1 amp charger to a .5 amp charger and a single cloud is enough to do this. It doesn't self recover to 1 A once the sun increase etc etc. If there isn't good sky the 1 amp charge is hard to reset requiring multiple resets. Basically it's a fatalistically dependable (always takes a charge via solar) .5 amp charger but 1 A charging is very unreliable as it is so prone to slipping and staying at .5 amp. Once reset it can go back to 1 amp however the charge error is easily triggered. One solution is to do a pass through charge into a powerbank etc etc which I tested. Then the extra potential power wouldn't be lost.
    Last edited by Woods Walker; 09-06-2017 at 09:27 AM.
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    I agree that the F1 seems to be better without some kind of buffer. This is why I use the 4D cells as my buffer between the solar panel and the F1 charger or battery pack charging. The F2 in this configuration is great because I have the batteries between and I also have family that uses too many batteries in a night, 3x Phone, 2x iPads, lighting, headlights. So you can make hay while the sun shines and get as much charged as possible. And the F2 gives you the possibility 2 charge 2 18650 at the same time.

    But like you said this only works if you have the batteries as buffer.

  26. #26

    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Seriously consider only getting solar panels that use Sunpower cells.
    Read up on Sunpower solar cells to see why.
    There's a number of relatively cheap, and very light weight 5v solar panels on Amazon that use Sunpower cells.
    The best watts/weight/cost ratio that I'm aware of is 10 watts for 6 oz. and about 60$
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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by eh4 View Post
    Seriously consider only getting solar panels that use Sunpower cells.
    Read up on Sunpower solar cells to see why.
    There's a number of relatively cheap, and very light weight 5v solar panels on Amazon that use Sunpower cells.
    The best watts/weight/cost ratio that I'm aware of is 10 watts for 6 oz. and about 60$
    I did a review of an ECEEN which uses Sunpower panels and working on the post now. I liked them.

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  28. #28

    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Plenty of good info in this thread. I have the same ECEEN panels and an F1 charger. Seem to be pretty happy with the setup for my basic needs. Good to know about the reduced charging current but I like the idea of passing through to another powerbank simultaneously.

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    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Quote Originally Posted by blah9 View Post
    Plenty of good info in this thread. I have the same ECEEN panels and an F1 charger. Seem to be pretty happy with the setup for my basic needs. Good to know about the reduced charging current but I like the idea of passing through to another powerbank simultaneously.
    ECEEN does have one major advantage and I even contacted the company to verify it was a good design feature and not just a lucky fluke with my panel. The charger resets every 3 minutes. This self corrects every single charging error I could toss at it from the infamous ""This accessory may not be supported" IOS 10 error to the crash happy Nitecore F2. It should also correct the F1 .5A reduction but never tested for that. Basically the best and often only fix for a charge error is to reset the powerbank/phone/charger by unplugging then plugging back in. The ECEEN does this automatically every 3 minutes so the battery always gets the best possible charge rate and clearing of fatal errors. They originally did it as iPhones would default to a lower charge level if a passing cloud triggers the reduction.

    Once the sun comes out the phone would be stuck on the lower amp charging level. By auto resetting the phone would recover to the higher amp level or as is the case with the new IOS update back to actually charging.The sunpower panels work in very very low light for a high efficiency panel. Just a very very good panel. Working on the written part of the ECEEN 10 watt panel review this week. I am officially changing over from Allpowers to ECEEN for my preps. A solar panel is like a figure 4 dead-fall trap. It is working for you till accidentally tripped. After that it is just a rock on the ground till reset. Same goes for solar panels. Working for you until there is a charge error. So the ECEEN is a figure 4 trap that auto resets. LOL! I am going to use that line in the written review.

    I tested the VC2 using the powerbank function again but this time with a Sanyo unprotected red 3500 mAh 18650. I got a 25% increase on my Air 2 iPad. Dang good. It is still slower than the MC1 plus and MC1 plus ANT for solar as they more reliably charge at 1A than the VC2 but am really liking the Xtar VC2 on many levels.
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  30. #30

    Default Re: Batteries and solar power charging

    Haha awesome, thanks for the info! Hopefully I'll be able to see your review although I'm not on CPF that often sometimes. I'm really glad that my panel should do that as well then.

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