epoxy fuel tanks

Discussion in 'Boatbuilding' started by Guest, Dec 18, 2001.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    I have spent some time customizing my 46 sportfish at Harker's Island, N.C. and became hooked on cold molded construction with epoxy. I believe that these one-off designs using this method are stronger, stiffer, faster, and more economical to operate than similar production fiberglass boats on the market. Because I contemplate beginning construction of a 35-40' express sportfisher in the spring, I would like suggestions regarding built-in fuel tanks into the hull using epoxy and several layers of 12-08 Fabmat on the interior of the tanks. The fuel tanks would be designed with 100% fuel usage (fuel polishing capability also) and incorporate the stringers and hull with sufficient limber holes for adequate flow. I have built an 8-gallon tank into an 11' Boston Whaler and have put over 1400 hours on a Suzuki 4-stroke engine over the past 4 years with no problems with this epoxy tank. Any suggestions on this idea? Thanks.
  2. Jeff
    Joined: Jun 2001
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    Jeff Moderator

    I hesitated to reply because over the past couple of years I've seen a number of questions about epoxy fuel tanks and the answer is that most of the time it works just fine and without the corrosion problems with some cheaper metal tanks, but there are also a couple of horror stories about custom-built epoxy fuel tanks too. The problems are most likely the result of the wrong epoxy or poorly mixed epoxy or an insufficient barrier coat so that the fuel over time gets into the laminate. Part of the difficulty for home boatbuilders is that many of the best suppliers of boatbuilding resin have not tested their resins for long-term fuel containment (presumably because of the low profit which would result from rigorous testing, and because of the liability involved) – I haven’t looked too much for certified fuel/chemical resistant resins, so I can’t really comment on where to go there. I’m also not sure about incorporating the stringers with limber holes for the fuel to flow through them – in one sense you want baffles anyway to keep fuel from sloshing around, but at the same time, this might make the problem of fuel leaching into the structure/laminate more likely, and if it did occur it might make it much harder to take care of. Another thing to consider is that it will probably be ok if you plan to keep the boat forever, but with always tightening safety and environmental regulations it might introduce some complications if you want to sell the boat sometime in the future (though less so with diesel than with gasoline).
  3. Jeff
    Joined: Jun 2001
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    Location: Great Lakes

    Jeff Moderator

    I went ahead and asked both Raka and Gougeon Brothers about this and they were both kind enough to give some general pointers which are pretty much in alignment with what I've said above. In addition, Gougeon Brothers pointed out that there was an article in the current issue of Professional Boatbuilder (December/January, #74) on page 20 on this very topic - I saw the article on Wave Piercers and must confess that I somehow skipped past the article on integral tanks :)

    For a subscription to Professional Boatbuilder, see their web site at http://www.proboat.com

    Gougeon Brothers also included the following article for reference - I can't find a copy on their web site to link to so I'm sure they won't mind if I attach it for you to look at as well:

    Building Tanks with WEST SYSTEM® Brand Epoxy

    Wood/Epoxy Composite Tank Guidelines
    Builders have successfully constructed tanks for potable water, sewage, gray water, ballast and diesel fuel tanks and a limited number of gasoline tanks using WEST SYSTEM® Brand Epoxy since the early 1970's. The regulatory environment has evolved within the last thirty years and has placed safety restrictions on various aspects of tank building, specifically potable water and gasoline.

    U. S. Coast Guard (USCG) regulations, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards, and insurance restrictions should be carefully considered by anyone, professional and homebuilder alike, planning to build a composite tank. Tank construction material and construction processes have been investigated thoroughly over the years, and the lowest grief option is choosing a certified tank from a manufacturer. Certified fuel tanks have already been tested in accordance with strict fire and flame regulations, and have proven themselves in the field. Certified potable water tanks have been made to minimize or eliminate extractives.

    While professional builders are bound by tough USCG regulations and ABYC standards regarding tanks, back-yard-boat builders have the option to follow or disregard them. If the back-yard-boat builder chooses to disregard the regulations and doesn't sell the boat, the builder meets the intent of the federal regulations. However, once the builder decides to sell the boat, the federal regulations become applicable and must be followed because he/she has built the boat for the purposes of sale. A good reference for individuals building boats for their own use and not for the purposes of sale is the publication, Safety Standards for Backyard Boat Builders, COMDTPUB P16761 3B. This may be obtained from USCG Headquarters or on the Internet; addresses, phone numbers, and web sites are noted in the reference section.

    Before using Gougeon Brothers' products in tank construction, we advise that customers review the relevant federal, state and local safety regulations, standards, and recommended marine practices, as well as contacting their insurance carriers for restrictions. A wood/epoxy diesel fuel tank may be an uneconomical choice if insurance premiums increase or if state licensing/federal documentation problems are encountered.

    General Wood/Epoxy Tank Construction
    Once the epoxy leaves our shipping dock, Gougeon Brothers cannot control how the epoxy will be used. Some customers will use, and have used the epoxy to build all types of tanks. For those who decide to proceed with making tanks, here are some guidelines to help make the project as successful as possible. The key to a durable tank is a thick, well-cured epoxy coating. To minimize long-term corrosion and performance problems, we recommend that the coating be:
    (1) slightly resin-rich/hardener-lean, see chart in reference section for maximum ratio
    (2) well mixed, scraping sides and bottom of container
    (3) elevated temperature post-cured, minimum of 120° F for 4 to 8 hours (after epoxy has cured at room temperature and is hard to the touch)
    (4) thoroughly scrubbed with water and a scouring/abrasive pad, rinsed, and dried

    The inside of the tank should be treated similar to the outside of a hull. We recommend a minimum of 20-mil coverage for all interior surfaces of tanks. This is similar to the coverage recommend as a "barrier coat" for the exterior of a hull, which is five to six rolled coats of epoxy. After rolling, the epoxy should be brushed out to minimize any entrapped air. Surge baffles should be installed to minimize free surface effect. The baffles should be installed with generous fillets and the fillets should get the same five to six coats of epoxy as the rest of the tank interior.

    Any tank openings, such as fill, vent, inspection or clean out, should be oversized and also receive five to six coats of epoxy. We recommend that fasteners be epoxy bonded in place to secure any hardware to the tank or in the construction of the tank. Details of hardware bonding can be found in the WEST SYSTEM User Manual/Product Guide, Catalog Number 002-950 or on our web site noted in the reference section.

    Carefully metered resin/hardener ratio is critical to any epoxy's performance. In all projects, with one exception, we recommend dispensing and mixing epoxy at the target ratio within our acceptable range. Tank building is the exception to the rule. When mixing epoxy for tank coatings, we recommend a resin rich/hardener lean mixture at the outer limits of the acceptable range. The table in the reference section notes the acceptable resin rich/hardener lean ratios. Please see sidebar for more in-depth discussion of our recommendation for this type of mixture.

    Sidebar: Resin rich/hardener lean epoxy for tank coating
    We only recommend a slightly resin rich/hardener lean mixture when dispensing and mixing epoxy for coating the insides of tanks. This is because excess resin in epoxy is less likely to adversely effect the physical properties of cured epoxy than excess hardener. When excess hardener is in the epoxy matrix, it cannot fully react with the resin and will become suspended in the mixture. Because amines (in the hardeners) are water-soluble, they can potentially leach out and cause odd tastes, contaminates in the liquid, and porosity in the epoxy film, among other performance defects. The maximum resin rich ratios noted in the reference section are at the end of acceptable ranges for WEST SYSTEM epoxy. These ratios should not be taken any farther away from the target. These maximum resin rich ratios meet specification to obtain a properly cured epoxy film and to minimize extracts leaching out of the epoxy. When using 300, 301 or 303 Mini Pumps, one way to obtain the resin rich/hardener lean ratio within the acceptable range is dispense the following:

    Epoxy Combination......................Pumps Resin..........Pumps Hardener
    105 Resin/205 or 206 Hardener..........6........................5
    105 Resin/207 or 209 Hardener..........7........................6

    Thorough mixing is difficult to achieve because the single resin or hardener components stick or cling to the sides of the container. This is readily seen when tinted epoxy is mixed together. We recommend that a double-pot mixing method be used when building or coating tanks. This is accomplished in two stages. The first stage is mixing the resin and hardener in one container, scraping the sides and bottom. Scraping is key because it incorporates the majority of the single components in the mixture. The second stage involves transferring this mixed epoxy into another clean mixing container. A new stir stick is used to mix this a second time. Any clinging material was already mixed once from the first stage and has a very low potential of being a single component.

    A temporary oven or radiant heater can be used to apply an elevated temperature post-cure. A high-wattage incandescent or halogen light bulb can raise the temperature in a tank high enough to do the job. This is often the only way to do an integral tank. However, watch the fire hazard as some light bulbs can get hot enough to cause the epoxy to char or possibly ignite.

    Scrubbing with water and a scouring/abrasive pad, similar to 3M's Scotch Brite® pad, removes any surface contamination, specifically any potential amine blush that may form on the surface. Amine blush is water-soluble and can be removed with tap water. The scrubbing action agitates the surface to help remove it. Solvents without high water content don't normally remove the amine blush because of its water solubility. Leave the lacquer thinner, acetone, vinegar, alcohol, and other solvents in the storage bin, use warm water if you need to deviate from the norm. Rinse again with water and dry with paper towel.

    Holding Tank and Gray Water Tank Considerations
    Sewage holding tanks are Type III marine sanitation devices (MSD) and are regulated under Title 33, Code of Federal Regulations Part 159 (33 CFR 159)-Marine Sanitation Devices. A Type III MSD is considered a certified tank if it: (1) is used solely for the storage of sewage and flushwater at ambient air pressure and temperature; and (2) prevents the overboard discharge of treated or untreated sewage or any waste derived from sewage (33 CFR 159.3, 159.12a, and 159.53). Type III MSDs may not be labeled. For Coast Guard Inspected vessels, the Type III MSD must also comply with 33 CFR 159.97. For the specific tank construction, make sure the internal surfaces are very smooth and that all burrs or wood splinters are removed so they don't cause anything to cling to the surfaces. This should help allow the tank to be cleaned efficiently.

    Type I and Type II MSDs are more complex systems and are beyond the scope of this article, please refer to the Code of Federal Regulations for guidance.

    We know of no federal regulations or other standards regarding the manufacture of gray water tanks. Use the above general guidelines for construction and you should not have any problem using WEST SYSTEM epoxy.

    Potable Water Tank Considerations
    We feel that the potential problems outweigh benefits and have adopted the broad policy of not recommending the epoxy for drinking water tanks because of regulatory and safety issues. To date, none of Gougeon Brothers' epoxies meet FDA regulations or any other drinking water certified approval. The major long-term concern with any plastic water tank is extractives leaching out in the water. Off-ratio, poorly cured epoxy can release extractives, as noted above. In the fabrication of water tanks and food handling equipment, the successful use of epoxy requires thorough mixing and adequate elevated temperature post-cure to assure the maximum cross-linking and cure of the polymer. These process controls are not always possible with the home-built tank. Unfortunately, neither Gougeon Brothers, Inc. nor any certification agency can verify the level of quality control exercised in the fabrication of the tank.
    What about the builder who weighs the risks and decides to go ahead against our recommendation? For the homebuilder it is a personal choice. In addition to the recommendations in the general guidelines noted above, a builder may want to install an in-line filter to help remove any possible extracts and odd tastes. Professional builders should understand, again, that there are no formal approvals (awarded or pending) for Gougeon Brother's epoxy products for use in potable water tanks. Where certification is required, it is usually application specific. We have looked at the 2000 Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 175.300 (Food and Drug Administration, HHS) and found that the testing is specific for end-use conditions, container sizes, and frequency of use. If you have specific design/use in mind, it may be appropriate to contact the knowledgeable American or Canadian agency to identify their requirements. As with many things, the care used in the construction of the tank is the key to the overall quality.
    ABYC also has a section dedicated to the general installation of potable water systems; the specific standard is H-23-Installation of Potable Water Systems for Use on Boats.

    Another great agency to get information regarding potable water coatings is NSF International, The Public Health and Safety Company™. They are dedicated to testing and issuing certifications of various coatings and materials for public health and safety. You can get information off their web site to find current products that meet their various standards. Their contact information is found in the reference section below.

    Fuel Tank Considerations
    Fuel tank building is a controversial area. There are several USCG regulations and ABYC standards governing fuel systems. Actually, the USCG regulations are only applicable for gasoline fuel systems, not diesel fuel. Because of gasoline's lower flash point, higher volatility and combustibility, gasoline systems are more regulated than diesel fuel systems. These regulations are very specific and contain stringent requirements for the fill systems, vents, installation, testing and labeling.

    The USCG regulatory information can be obtained at USCG Headquarters and at each Coast Guard District's Boating Safety Division, all of these contacts are noted in the reference section, too. The guiding regulations for gasoline tanks in recreational boating are contained in Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 183.501 through 183.590. The regulations may be found on the World Wide Web at no charge or may be obtained for a nominal fee from the Government Printing Office. These sources are found in the reference section. The ABYC standards for gasoline systems are found in Standard H-24-Gasoline Fuel Systems and H-25-Portable Gasoline Fuel Systems.

    Although the USCG doesn't publish any regulations for recreational boat diesel fuel systems, ABYC publishes a written a standard, Standard H-33-Diesel Fuel Systems. It would behoove customers to obtain a copy to ensure all safety precautions and recommended practices are followed.

    All types and variations of tanks have been successfully constructed with WEST SYSTEM Brand epoxy and used in the field with great results. However, Gougeon Brothers does not condone or recommend that certain tanks be built because of various issues noted above. In our testing, various epoxy combinations have proven to be resistant to various liquids, including gasoline, diesel fuel, motor oil, potable water, sea water, sewage, gray water, etc. Regarding gasoline specifically, some epoxy combinations are more resistant than others are. With the increasing use of alcohol and other high-tech additives, we are unsure how the epoxy will resist them in the future. We do know that many types of alcohol vigorously attack epoxy, we can only conclude that gasoline with a higher percentage of alcohol may not have favorable results in long-term use.

    Before building gasoline tanks and potable water tanks, do your homework and take into consideration the information above. The resources and various agencies noted below should help you make informed decisions regarding tanks and whether or not you should build your own. The final decision to build or not to build rests on the builder, we hope this document helps the builder make sound, educated decisions. As always, please contact the Technical Staff if specific questions arise.

    References and Resources:
    Safety Standards for
    Backyard Boat Builders,
    COMDTPUB P16761 3B
    Commandant (G-OPB-3),
    US Coast Guard,
    2100 Second Street, SW,
    Washington DC, 20593-0001,
    (202) 267-0984
    USCG Infoline: (800) 368-5647

    Recreational Boating Safety,
    U. S. Coast Guard Headquarters:
    Commandant (G-OPB),
    US Coast Guard,
    2100 Second Street, SW,
    Washington DC, 20593-0001,
    (202) 267-0984
    USCG Infoline: (800) 368-5647

    Code of Federal Regulations:
    Government Printing Office
    Credit Card: (202) 512-1800, M-F, 8-4
    Fax Order: (202) 512-2233 24 hours
    Payment by check:
    Superintendent of Documents
    Attn: New Orders
    P. O. Box 371954
    Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954
    Customer Service: (202) 512-1803
    Free on World Wide Web
    Fuel Tanks: http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_00/33cfr183_00.html

    Marine Sanitation Devices:

    Fuel tanks for USCG Inspected Vessels (<100 GT)

    Food and Drug Administration:
    5600 Fishers Lane
    Rockville MD 20857-0001

    NSF International
    PO Box 130140
    789 N. Dixboro Road
    Ann Arbor, MI 48113-0140, USA
    Tel: (734) 769-8010
    Toll Free (USA): (800)-NSF-MARK
    Fax: 734-769-0109

    American Boat & Yacht Council
    3069 Solomons Island Road
    Edgewater, MD 21037-1416
    Tel: (410) 956-1050
    Fax: (410) 956-2737

    U.S Coast Guard Districts,
    Boating Safety Divisions

    COMMANDER (opb)
    First Coast Guard District
    Capt. John Foster Williams Bldg.
    408 Atlantic Avenue
    Boston, MA 02110-3350
    Tel: (617) 223-8480

    COMMANDER (opb)
    Fifth Coast Guard District
    Federal Bldg.
    431 Crawford Street
    Portsmouth, VA 23704-5004
    Tel: (757) 398-6000

    COMMANDER (opb)
    Seventh Coast Guard District
    Brickell Plaza Federal Bldg.
    909 SE First Ave.
    Miami, FL 33131-3050
    Tel: (305) 536-5654

    COMMANDER (opb)
    Eighth Coast Guard District
    Hale Boggs Federal Building
    501 Magazine Street
    New Orleans, LA 70130-3396
    Tel: (504) 589-6298

    COMMANDER (opb)
    Ninth Coast Guard District
    1240 East 9th St
    Cleveland, OH 44199-2060
    Tel: (216) 902-6001

    COMMANDER (opb)
    Eleventh Coast Guard District
    Coast Guard Island
    Alameda, CA 94501-5100
    Tel: (510) 437-3324

    COMMANDER (opb)
    Thirteenth Coast Guard District
    Jackson Federal Bldg
    915 Second Ave
    Seattle, WA 98174-1067
    Tel: (206) 220-7237

    COMMANDER (opb)
    Fourteenth Coast Guard District
    Prince Kalanianaole Federal Bldg.
    300 Ala Moana Blvd., 9th Floor
    Honolulu, HI 96850-4982
    Tel: (808) 541-2121

    COMMANDER (opb)
    Seventeenth Coast Guard District
    P.O. Box 25517
    Juneau, AK 99802-5517
    Tel: (907) 463-2065

    Gougeon Brothers Inc.
    100 Patterson Ave., PO Box 908
    Bay City, MI 48707-0908 U.S.A.
    Tel: 989-684-7286
    fax: 989-684-1287
    URL: www.gougeon.com
    E-mail: TS@gougeon.com
  4. Guest

    Guest Guest

    thanks, jeff

    thanks Jeff for your thoughtful and comprehensive reply. Soon after posting I went to Professional Boatbuilder and saw that they had an article coming on integral tanks. The West System article is useful also, and being an attorney I could see in their writing their attorney standing over their shoulder and negating any liability in this area. This is par for the course in any area with high potentials of liability - at our marina a Tiara just came from the yard where there was a recall because of leaking fuel tanks. It seems they placed the tank approx. 2 inches from the bilge where bilge water was likely to have constant contact with the aluminum and cause problems. I guess this was a "professional naval architect" design and with all of the problems in production boat designs with fuel tanks (as discussed in many of David Pascoe's articles at yachtsurvey.com) I am trying to come to a bulletproof solution if one is possible.
    As far as the epoxy itself as a barier coat, the West article seems to contemplate about 5 coats of resin as a barrier. I have never trusted just the resin on anything other than a sealer for brightwork - My tank would be heavily reinforced with cloth to the extent it would be a substantial tank (maybe 3/8 thick or more) on its own. I think boat flex would eventually crack any resin coating placed in a structural enviroment over time that wasn't reinforced with cloth.
    I guess one of my concerns with using the "approved" tanks by regulations and agencies found in production boats (with improper installations on many) is that "approved" is not always the best. I see a lot of boats here at the marina and in the yard and many times I ask mself what these builders could have been thinking when they put these things together. Many boatbuilders are more prone to concern over the bottom line rather than the bottom of the boat, as is evident by the junkers that are being turned out today. Just make it shiny, put a platform on the back with a little door and a shower nozzle, and some Doctor will come along and buy it. (Carver)
    Again, thanks Jeff for your response and I know I will have other questions in the future. As far as liability when it comes time to sell a boat, I'm AN ATTORNEY, MAN!!! I would be so far protected from the original title to a boat through corporate filings and subsidiaries that original title and builder would probably go through Bin Laden before it got back to me!!
  5. tom28571
    Joined: Dec 2001
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    Location: Oriental, NC

    tom28571 Senior Member

    As you can see from my zip code, I'm just up the ICW from you. I built water and gasoline tanks for my 24 ft powerboat. Being concerned about getting some fuel with alcohol added that will penetrate most epoxies, I used isothalic polyester resin. Other comments made above are good. I would not use mat but would preferheavyweight bias-ply cloth. Also, fitting the tanks close to the hull but suspended from flanges will make them less likely to react to hull vibration. A resin rich interior coating will keep fuel from wicking along glass fibers.
  6. Jeff
    Joined: Jun 2001
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    Location: Great Lakes

    Jeff Moderator

    Today there was a thread on rec.boats.building which is on topic titled Epoxy Gasoline Fuel Tank Construction

    A few interesting points were raised. Glenn Ashmore mentioned the potential for undetectable leaks created by hull flex:
    Tom Bloomer brought up terathalic resin, which I'm not familiar with:
  7. Jeff
    Joined: Jun 2001
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    Location: Great Lakes

    Jeff Moderator

  8. jfblouin
    Joined: Sep 2004
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    Location: Chandler(Gaspesie) Quebec

    jfblouin Senior Member

    3 years later, does some one have good or bad personnal experience with gasoline epoxy tank ?
  9. partgypsy
    Joined: Jan 2007
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    Location: 20744

    partgypsy Junior Member

    6 years later and still no concrete answer to this issue. Are there any new developments in this field? I've heard of using Coosa composite board and vinylester resin.
  10. Capt Mike
    Joined: Jan 2008
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    Location: Nashville Tennessee

    Capt Mike Junior Member

  11. Ike
    Joined: Apr 2006
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    Location: Washington

    Ike Senior Member

    I just want to remind you that the Federal Regs and ABYC standards do not allow integral gasoline tanks. Diesel, water, waste, etc ok, but not gasoline.

    You might want to take a look at what Hatteras does. All of their diesel boats (which is nearly all of their boats) have integral frp tanks. There have been very few problems with them.

    By the way the USCG numbers given above have been changed. They no longer have an 800 number. Their office number and fax are 202-372-1073 or FAX 202-372-1934 or e-mail Richard Blackman at Richard.A.Blackman@uscg.mil

    Safety Standards for Backyard Boatbuilders is not long published or ditributed by USCG. You can download it at my site http://newboatbuilders.com/docs/backyardboatbuilders.pdf
  12. Capt Mike
    Joined: Jan 2008
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    Location: Nashville Tennessee

    Capt Mike Junior Member

    My boat is diesel . But I built my tank for black water not fuel . I was just showing how you could build a tank.

  13. Fanie
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    Location: Colonial "Sick Africa"

    Fanie Fanie

    Some of the small aircraft uses epoxy tanks, I asked my friend and he says the tanks gets painted inside with a special epoxy paint that would prohibit leaks. Mostly the fuel tanks sits in the wings.
  14. Capt Mike
    Joined: Jan 2008
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    Location: Nashville Tennessee

    Capt Mike Junior Member

    my tanks are steel and in great shape

  15. the1much
    Joined: Jul 2007
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    Location: maine

    the1much hippie dreams

    what shape is your tank?,,,, some say making square tanks out of any glass and resin is looking for trouble,,,but then they say round tanks are o.k.,,,its about how force is dissipated on flat square walls is way less,,then when that same ( wave of gas or whatever) hits a round wall,,they say round,,glass o.k,,,square, go with metal.In the boat yards i worked for, they were always talking bout making glass tanks,,,but as builders they said it was WAY easier, safer,,and less on their wallets to just stay metal,,,,mostly because of the liability
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