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Converting a van to a camper to ski (and avoid covid)

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I suspect it is better for the battery to slow charge rather than cook them.

The other thing I thought about that tiny wood burner, who adds the wood at night? With such a small wood burner, even with the air intake reduced, it would burn itself out within an hour. Hardly going to keep the chill out during the night.

On the other hand, a 1kw catalytic gas burner attached to a small can will burn for just short of 8 hours. For example the 1 kw coleman black cat attached to the front of this 3kw parrafin heater would burn most of the night on one big can when the skies were clear and the altitude high.



The parrafin heater was only required for fast heat up, and when running the engine and using the blowers would annoy other people. Would rapidly heat the van up to 20c, and keep it there when the temperature was -20c outside (this was after the third layer of insulation)

The parrafin heater has a large cartridge which holds 4l of fuel, and lasts a long time used the way I used it.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
BoardieK wrote:
@Bigtipper, These are usually referred to as "Battery to Battery" (B2B) chargers and are full 3 stage battery chargers with a typical output of 50A. They sit between the vehicle and leisure batteries with much larger wires than normally fitted to motorhomes so that instead of an initial charge of, say, 25A reducing to 7 or 8A within 15 minutes you get a full 50A charge until the leisure batteries are about 80% full, which could be an hour or two depending on the size of the battery bank.

Ours works very well for us, especially skiing off grid for 2 months, but I did take some time to make sure I got the optimal installation.


in slightly older vehicles a simple split charge relay did the job, switching the alternator supply to the leisure battery when starter battery was up to charge. This worked because alternators used to work at a constant voltage. More modern (Euro VI) vehicles have smart alternators which reduce voltage when possible. A more sophisticated and more expensive box of electronics AKA Battery to Battery (B2B) unit is required to get around this. A B2B will also manage your leisure battery better so you will get more juice out of it. Also if you have a solar panel the B2B unit can use it to trickle charge your starter battery
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
For heating wouldn’t you just instal a diesel heater?
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Yes diesel heater is the way to go. Not sure I’d fancy leaving a gas heater on whilst I was asleep. Make sure you have a CO alarm if you do...
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
While normal folk might comfortably overlook this fact, it is important for snowHeads to note that not all diesel heaters are altitude friendly.
As the air gets thinner, the mix needs to be adjusted to suit.
Some units are built with this compatibility included, some have add-on mods available and some are simply not usable above about 1500m.
Just something to be aware of... I have direct experience of running a modifiable Eberspacher both before and after the altitude kit was implemented. It made as much difference to reliability as U would expect ie. a lot!
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Of course these days I would have a bigger battery bank. I would therefore run an electric blanket all night, probably on setting 3 out of 6. This would be feasible, whereas back then it cost about £150 for a 20 watt solar panel. Solar panels are very cheap now, especially if you buy the disposable ones from China.

A quick search indicates £150 these days will buy 200 watt solar panel with the pwm charge controller thrown in for free!

https://campfiremag.co.uk/campervan-heaters/

This website seems to have some unbiassed information on van heating. I was impressed at the cheap diesel heaters being sold on ebay for under £100. Looks like they do not need to be connected to your van diesel tank, having their own tank. Makes it easier and safer for DIY installation.

Again the main issue for me back in those days was running a fan all night using up electricity on my limited (usually depleted by bedtime) supplies. Cheaper solar panels, will make static charging of a battery bank more cost effective. Consequently, running a diesel heater which requires electricity all night long might be cost effective.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
On the rocks wrote:
BoardieK wrote:
@Bigtipper, These are usually referred to as "Battery to Battery" (B2B) chargers and are full 3 stage battery chargers with a typical output of 50A. They sit between the vehicle and leisure batteries with much larger wires than normally fitted to motorhomes so that instead of an initial charge of, say, 25A reducing to 7 or 8A within 15 minutes you get a full 50A charge until the leisure batteries are about 80% full, which could be an hour or two depending on the size of the battery bank.

Ours works very well for us, especially skiing off grid for 2 months, but I did take some time to make sure I got the optimal installation.


in slightly older vehicles a simple split charge relay did the job, switching the alternator supply to the leisure battery when starter battery was up to charge. This worked because alternators used to work at a constant voltage. More modern (Euro VI) vehicles have smart alternators which reduce voltage when possible. A more sophisticated and more expensive box of electronics AKA Battery to Battery (B2B) unit is required to get around this. A B2B will also manage your leisure battery better so you will get more juice out of it. Also if you have a solar panel the B2B unit can use it to trickle charge your starter battery


Solar panels reduce their voltage when the sun goes behind a cloud. The battery seems to cope with that without any problem? If you connect a solar panel to your starter battery it will trickle charge it without a charge controller if the panel is small enough (5w say)



The small solar panel (5w) in the picture is connected to the starter battery. The larger solar panel is connected to the leisure battery in the back of the van.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
A bit risky relying on solar panels in the mountains in winter - all day (say 5hrs - 10am to 3pm) in weak sun pushes our batteries from 12.5v to 12.7v - we use more in 24 hours than we replace. Obvs it depends on the individual van and whether you drive around each day to further topup the batteries.

Imagine being snowed in somewhere for a couple of days (roads closed for avalanche risk, for example) Crying or Very sad
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I'll chip in here has rather extensive experience on this subject. I built a van, for skiing & windsurfing. Usually get at least two or three Euro trips a year & also a season ticket holder at Glencoe.

You need imho to be fully capable of running off grid as you cant rely on the grid being available. A heater that is ducted into all corners of your van, a shower with a weeks worth of water on board, standing headroom, lots of insulation. A drying room area.

I built a LWB L3/H2 Boxer into what I needed. Had it 5 years now, its brilliant.
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@Cptsideways, Yep, that's exactly what I'm working on for our Ducato L3/H2 conversion, but replace windsurfing with sea kayaking. Keeping me busy during lockdown
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snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
I should add that the bluesky parrafin heater displayed above does have batteries, I recall one D size battery is required for igniting the wick. Once started there is no electricity required, but you may want to ensure adequate ventilation or fume extraction.

In the 15 years I have had this heater, I have had to change the battery once! (it was not rechargeable)

The flame is enclosed, however there are issues with the cartridge leaking a little when it shakes and bumps at the back of the van. Best to take the cartridge out when moving the van and turn it so the cap is pointing to the sky.

With regards running out of oxygen, and incomplete combustion, my van had plenty of ventilation from doors which did not fit properly as well as my own fume extraction ventilation. However, I did not run it for more than a few hours at a time and had smoke alarms and carbon monoxide testers as well as fire blankets and fire extinguishers suitable for fuel based fires (i.e. not water fire extinguishers, co2 or foam, I think I had co2 and foam)

The cataltytic gas heater had a non battery ignition starter (like a lighter). This did not work very well, and eventually I used a lighter to start it. At altitude not all of the catalyst would glow red hot, this is probably due to the mix of propane and butane used in the gas cannisters.

The fire alarm never went off once (except when I pressed the test button), and the co alarm and air tester never showed a problem.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Apologies if it's been mentioned, but the Foresty Forest channel on Youtube is worth a watch. Dude lives pretty much full time in a minivan in Canada, including spending some time in the Arctic circle last winter, so his kit is tried and tested down to about -30c. He's clearly mental and doesn't have a problem being cold (I think in one video he was talking about van temp being below 10c and being happy with that), but gives quite a good idea of what can be done with a DC/DC charger, some solar and a bit of driving every few days. Although he does have the advantage that there are connections for block heaters in a lot of Canada which he can use to stealthily charge the battery.


http://youtube.com/v/V4qSbGsNjgg&ab_channel=ForestyForest
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@1m10 : Did he really say "You can go 95% beef and 5% mouse"? Shocked
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.


Beans on toast is fine dining in a van, with champagne of course. Speed cooking gets it done in a few minutes, and its hot. Very little preperation time, sausages are sometimes included in a tin of beans for free. Full of fibre.

The coleman black cat does not make an irritating clicking noise all night when in operation, neither does the parrafin heater. Both are silent (due to there being no fan) A silent extraction fan might help, but I found it not necessary for one person in a van.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
@admin, quite possibly, another episode he extols the virtue of bacon as a health food and there's a long running gag about making sure to rinse your beans in a creek.

@Bigtipper, I suggest you take some fine dining tips from Foresty, dude eats better than I do Shocked
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Quote:

sausages are sometimes included in a tin of beans for free

@Bigtipper, Laughing
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Markymark29 wrote:
Quote:

sausages are sometimes included in a tin of beans for free

@Bigtipper, Laughing


Nothing comes for free. Those sausages are displacing some beans.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?

Just arrived from China via Poland.
1.5 x the storage capacity of my current batteries, in 1/3 the space - amazing! Madeye-Smiley

While any freed up space is always going to be highly prized, I'm quite tempted to double up on these. After all, the dubby bit of the BU5 4 DUB is a wee bit juicy Toofy Grin
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@admin, that would power an electric blanket on half heat for a few nights!
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@admin, Do they come with a free fire extinguisher?
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Better than just 1.5x the capacity as you can actually use all of it rather than the drop off you get with lead/acid meaning only half the Ah rating is usable.
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Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
@adithorp, very good Toofy Grin

However...
I currently have 3 x 120ah AGM = 360 giving 180ah, of sensible usage.
Going to 280ah LiFEPO4 90% of which is usable: 252ah.

So 1.4 times the current current, as it were... but so much more compact!
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@admin, Cost?
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You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
@GeorgeVII, About £600 for the batteries themselves.
If budget is critical, they can be got for £100-150 less if you order them direct from China but they can take, literally, months to arrive as they do a 30-40 day journey by sea and only get dispatched when the supplier has a full container ready to go. In fact, I found them as much as £200 cheaper but at the lower end you have to start being careful about whether they include customs charges, which can come to around 20%... and cause more delay.
These were at a premium because they were warehoused in Poland so already in the EU, all clear of customs etc. hence they only took 8 days to arrive.

A decent Battery Management System (BMS) is important.
(or you could just go with @On the rocks' plan and get a fire extinguisher Wink )
After a fair bit of research, a 30-60amp BMS is easy enough to pick up but I'm looking for 100a with a bit of margin. Also, of particular significance to snowHeads is that most batteries, but LiFePO in particular, can be damaged by charging at low temps so a BMS with low temp sensor is wise.
I'm about to order one of these: https://overkillsolar.com/product/bms-120a-4s-lifepo4/
The guy, was recommended by a healthy forum community and is clearly a proper geek - and I trust that!


Last edited by You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net. on Thu 3-12-20 20:52; edited 1 time in total
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Oh and although £600/£700 may look quite a lot, your typical deep cycle AGM leisure battery is probably good for about 500 cycles. LiFePO treated well should be good for 2000-5000 which starts to make them look very cost effective.
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@admin, Thanks.My son is looking is looking at something similar. He buys specialised electrical gear from China for his business. He's got 2x300w solar panels gathering dust waiting to be installed on his camper build.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
@admin, I'm fitting one of these, they do come with higher duties too
https://www.12voltplanet.co.uk/votronic-vbcs-12v-triple-charger-45a-dc-to-dc-30a-mains-350w-solar.html
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Chunky! Smile
So 3 chargers in one.
- DCDC: I've an older alternator than you so get away with a split charge relay.
- MAINS: I use a Sterling Combi which combines mains charger and Inverter, and provides a nice smooth switch between 'shore' and 12v sources.
- SOLAR: I've a rather nice Victron MPPT solar controller. It's rated at 50A/100v so it's a case of configuring the panels so as not to deliver above 100v and giving it wires that can carry the amps: loadsa watts!

I wouldn't like to be restricted to 350w solar. I can squeeze 500w on the top of a transporter: you could squeeze a few more on yours.
Someone was saying how solar isn't so great in Winter - I beg to differ. Altitude gives U clearer air and low temps make the panels more efficient too. OK, the days are shorter but all the more reason to chuck an extra panel up there Madeye-Smiley
Do note though, there's extra benefit from being able to tip them in Winter. The optimal angle for panels in the Alps in Jan is about 67 degrees! I'm sure it will not have escaped you that this is steep enough that falling snow will naturally avalanche off them.
"Solar panels when it's snowing?..." you say, "admin's lost 'is marbles!"
Actually, I've often had really good yield on cloudy days. I've even seen the diffusion caused by cloud increase the overall yield - bear in mind, at altitude, we're often quite near the top of the cloud.
Once snow settles on your panels, that's it! 1/8 inch deep and zero yield. But as long as it keeps sloughing off, you'll get something. Besides, U take off for the day skiing, when it's chucking it down - the cloud breaks here and there, and before U know it, there's the best part of a kwh in the box.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Sure. I’ve chosen the Victron to suit my 270W panel, remaining roof space needed for sea kayaks
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
@On the rocks, I've given the standard Votronic 45A b2b charger 8 years X 60 day ski trips ( plus autumn trips) hard use and I've never even head the cooling fan run... Victron gel batteries still going strong too.

ps. Likewise I need to get kayaks on the roof (We have a kayak shop) so although I have acres of roof I only have one paltry 80w panel.


Last edited by Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name: on Thu 3-12-20 19:27; edited 3 times in total
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Ok @On the rocks, I mean that Votronic is fairly pricey anyway - but if you're not even going to use the MPPT solar component of it (which is a fair proportion of what you're paying for), why not get something cheaper, smaller, lighter, just to cover DCDC and mains?

OTOH, U might as well just ditch the Victron as superfluous to your needs, no?
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
These days a campsite for campervans really has no need to offer electricity. Primarily, that was their usp. Now they have to offer something like a campsite with a sauna and wifi (where you cannot get a 4g or 5g signal), with steaming hot power showers in order to justify the expense. Even then you are really only paying for security and level parking.


Last edited by Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person on Thu 3-12-20 19:56; edited 1 time in total
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@admin, Ill be using the unit for my 270W solar panel, mains hook up and alternator feed so I'm making full use of it. Of course if I only needed 1 or 2 of the inputs or already had a separate MPPT it would be an extravagance. And I like the simplicity of everything in one unit with electronics that you can configure to your type and capacity of batteries. It will also trickle charge the starter battery from solar
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@admin, are you able to put something like rainx on the solar panel to help keep the snow off? Would've thought that on wetter days may help it fall off at that kind of angle.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Like your thinking @SnoodlesMcFlude, but IME Rainx isn't hugely resilient. Yes it holds up against rain drops for a while, I suspect though, the first time U scrape a few inches of snow off the panels there'd be little of it left.

That does tend to be the main trickyism actually: when the panels are flat, collect up a few inches and then need clearing before they can be tilted.
I was contemplating the idea of installing a heating element under the panels that could maybe be activated to take them up above freezing in a few minutes, and allow a nice easy slide.
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It's been a few years since I did this, but I've been using a woodburner a lot recently so I highly recommend installing it. It's probably my favorite feature now. I kept the LP furnace, but the quality of heat, the flickering light, and the sound (or lack thereof, compared to the furnace fan) from the stove make for such a cozy space.
The stove that I have is the smallest one, and it has been awesome. It features a secondary combustion system that makes for a clean, efficient, and controllable burn. Definitely on the spendy side, but I'm a wood stove geek, so it was worth it for me. A woodburner actually will keep you warm for the whole night without adding stoves every hour-few hours even. You should check some reviews or guides maybe to fully decide
https://www.thisoldhouse.com/fireplaces/21018204/all-about-pellet-stoves
https://houseweather.org/best-pellet-stove/ (really small ones) but again, I highly recommend installing it! Def worth it Cool
Btw, it's clearly warmer than an electric blanket Very Happy
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When I started out with the van, I used a large gas heater with an enormous gas cannister. This heater had a cut out switch on it when the oxygen levels were getting low. It used to operate for about half an hour, to an hour before it cut out. I would then turn it on again, and it would cut off in about half an hour again.

This meant that I generally had a lot of gas in the back of the van, even after a month skiing in the Alps I never seemed to run out of gas. I think I replaced the gas once in the whole time I used it, but never needed any more gas whilst skiing. (15kg can)

I decided to try the parrafin heater after I saw it in a French bricolage outlet. I had seen one in operation in a campervan when the blowers were on, and it produced a lot of heat (in a bigger space than I had in my van).

Getting the air flow in and out of the van without electricity and noise is an engineering dilemma. Definately wind can suck air out by using a cowel type spinning thing, and so new air would come in from the extraction vent if you had a condensing boiler flue.

I decided to ditch the weight of the gas cannister and the danger of a rear crash, by putting the parrafin heater with removeable parrafin cartridge. More safe when driving if there was an accident.

The issue with woodburners and coal fires I find is that you have to be there while it is on. You really should not put some wood on, (which allegedly might last all night), and then go off for a walk. There could be a chimney fire, or all sorts of other issues like blocked flue.

When you have a controllable heat, you turn it off when you leave the van. You turn it on when you get in the van. You are able to watch it and control it. A wood burner continues to burn when you leave the van, although I would dispute the all night burning scenario.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
admin wrote:
A decent Battery Management System (BMS) is important.
(or you could just go with @On the rocks' plan and get a fire extinguisher Wink )
After a fair bit of research, a 30-60amp BMS is easy enough to pick up but I'm looking for 100a with a bit of margin. Also, of particular significance to snowHeads is that most batteries, but LiFePO in particular, can be damaged by charging at low temps so a BMS with low temp sensor is wise.
I'm about to order one of these: https://overkillsolar.com/product/bms-120a-4s-lifepo4/
The guy, was recommended by a healthy forum community and is clearly a proper geek - and I trust that!
This guy's starting to look like their version of our Spyderjon - I ordered this from the US on Friday: just got a notification of a UPS delivery tomorrow (Monday) Cool
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Following
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 Ski the Net with snowHeads
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BMS ordered Friday, arrived Monday early evening.
So basically, he's taken one of the off-the-shelf Chinese BMS's, that loads of people have niggles and frustrations with - then he's fixed all those issues and sold it for not much more than the chinese would.
It comes with clear, printed instructions (in English), a QR code to a webpage with the full manual, the correct, up-to-date software downloads etc. (Some folk have evidently spent days trying to get that far with Chinese sellers.)
Plus the upgraded cabling/lugs (which is a selectable option) is rock solid - better than I'd do myself and saved me an hour or two to boot.

I spent waaaayyyy too long skulking around AliExpress/ebay/Amazon trying to figure out which was the reliable model, or the reliable version of the model, which sellers were selling it and which were selling 'copies' of it or a previous, less reliable version of it or... arggh!
Anyway, through trying to gain clarity I turned up a forum where this guy's work was recommended frequently enough to infer credibility. So I gave it a punt and now I'll add my voice to that: if you're setting up a 12v LiFePO4 battery system
Which, in my view is massively superior to lead acid - but a little more complicated to do correctly because you need a BMS which, as it turns out, isn't quite as straight forward a purchase as I thought rolling eyes
, get this BMS rather than saving £50 on AliExpress and spending hours/days working out the details, doing the wiring yourself etc.
If you need more than 120amps, running 2 in parallel is fine. Or, if you're looking to double up capacity by using 8 cells, wire them in 4 x balanced pairs. He gives wiring diagrams for all this.
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