Route

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News

12.02.2011

Day Eighteen

Arrival in Sydney

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11.02.2011

Day Seventeen

Lake Tabourie

10.02.2011

Day Sixteen

Eden

09.02.2011

Day Fifteen

Kalimna

08.02.2011

Day Fourteen

Foster

06.02.2011

Day Twelve until Thirteen

Ocean Grove

05.02.2011

Day Eleven

Port Fairy

04.02.2011

Day Ten

Kingston, Victoria

03.02.2011

Day Nine

St. Kilda

01.02.2011

Day Seven and Eight

Port Augusta

31.01.2011

Day Six

From Eucla to Ceduna

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The batteries are nearly fully charged. The laptop shows more than 7 kWh.. Around 5:30 we set off once again. Stefan's the first driver to the South Australian border. Fruitfly control. We're waved through. The winds are weak as expected. Stefan continues on battery power toward the east at about 45 km/h. There's not much happening on the road at all as far as traffic is concerned. Then the wind picks up. It's coming in directly from the south. We're in the vicinity of Yalata, the Aboriginal Reservation. Dirk readies the kite. It's now or never: we're at force 3 to 4 crosswinds to start. Then the wind picks up even more: 4 to 5 with gusts to force 6. We're now kite-powered for hours on end. The Explorer is covering kilometer after kilometer at speeds between 40 and 70 km/h. Then the inevitable happens: Dirk and Stefan both overlook a telegraph line running straight over the street to a nearby farm. At 60 kilometers per hour it slices right through the kite's steering lines. Dirk pulls the emergency release to break free from the kite, Stefan slams on the brakes. Once the kite is recovered, a new set of lines is attached and the journey continues.

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10 kilometers later it's another line across the road. It just was not to be seen against the sky. This time the steering lines aren't severed because Dirk manages to hit the release in time. But now the kite is snagged in the telegraph lines and tangled up in the trees. 10 minutes later everything is ready to go again. Then, after 100 kilometers, the front right tire blows out. The kite's constant lateral force wore out the running surface. Changing the tire takes 5 minutes. On we go again.

A police car approaches the two of them on the opposite side. The kite is still high in the sky as the police officers wave cordially from their squad car. Roadtrains, the giant trucks, beep and wave as well. Thumbs up. Thankfully, the kite brings out the best in everyone.

After a fulminant 130 kilometers, the high-speed kite stretch comes to an end. The road curves off and the wind suddenly comes in from the front again. Dirk gets out and packs up the kite. Stefan urges onward.

The Wind Explorer has proved itself as kite-powered vehicle. It might cost a front tire every 100 kilometers, but it works splendidly. If there are trees too close to the edge of the road, Dirk is able to steer the kite directly above the car and Stefan can control it as well by accelerating. This is also the way we bridge short lulls. The combination of electrical and kite-power is ideal.

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Around 9 p.m. the day comes to an end at Ceduna. The navigation system's odometer shows a marvelous 493.5 kilometers. We still have about 20% residual power in the batteries. So we set up the wind turbine at Pinky Point in Ceduna and charge up the batteries. By the next morning we've managed to replenish all the electricity we've used. We're delighted. The team and well-worn camera operators and escort staff break into a spontaneous celebration under the wind turbine. It is simply a wonderful feeling to have driven so far and to realize that the only energy involved has been supplied by the wind. We keep looking up to the rotors. The wind is so strong that the turbine keeps going into overload mode and turning itself out of the wind. We've got more than 12 amps flowing into the batteries right now. You can't see it, you can't hear it, but you can feel the electricity flowing. The Wind Explorer has finally distinguished itself by name and shown what it can do. Conditions weren't the best. The wind could always have blown from the southwest, for example. But the concept of a wind-powered vehicle, the combination of wind turbine, lithium-ion batteries, kites and lightweight, aerodynamic construction, has passed the test.

 

 

30.01.2011

Day Five

30 January, Day 5, Mundrabilla to Eucla

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After covering 75 kilometers, the team arrives in Eucla. The Explorer is kite-powered once again for the last 35 kilometers in moderate, but constant crosswinds all the way to the pass this side of Eucla. Then the road curves off to the north and the wind comes in from in front of us. Stefan and Dirk decide to set up the wind turbine in the sand dunes at the old postal station. The high, drifting dunes have all but covered the stone house over the years, but the tubine will probably not disappear overnight. We secure the guide lines for the mast deep in the sand. It's a hell of alot of work, but it works. While the turbine carries on in force 4 winds (in gusts from the ocean, force 5), Dirk and Stefan visit the meteorologist who runs the weather station here in Eucla. We're happy about what he has to say after checking the radar scans and forecasts. Tomorrow the wind is supposed to blow from the south and increase to about 15 knots in the course of the day. That will be ideal for the kites. The team camps out at the roadhouse; Dirk and Stefan are on wind-watch duty.

 

29.01.2011

Day Four

The next morning brings the moment of truth: Dietmar hooks up his laptop to the batteries and checks cell voltages. It's disappointing. The wind turbine has barely stoked in enough power for a distance of 60 kilometers. Stefan, our wind generator expert, explains why it is that so little electricity has passed through the system. First, the night had relatively inconstant winds and secondly, our mast should have been at least 6 meters higher in order to be above the surrounding trees. Facit: it works in principle. We can generate power for our lithium-ion battery systems. But the turbine's set-up position now has to become a key element of planning our route. We need good, high and wide open locations – ideally, we should have locations with steady winds from the ocean. We are confident … but give the batteries a full charge off the grid nevertheless.

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Our tour continues toward Eucla on the border with South Australia. It's still hot. That makes for thermic winds that are now blowing in from the north strong and gusty, but complicates things for the team. Stefan and Dirk trade off driving much more often than before. Each driver gulps down a liter of water at every stop. We're feeling the first effects of the sun and have headaches. Stefan has started dousing himself with water while driving. We hope the circuitry puts up with it. The Explorer is built for dry and not soggy environments ...

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The first stretch takes us to Cocklebiddy, 66,2kilometers. The Wind Explorer is using an unbelievable 19 Wh at an average of 43 km/h. We enter the Western-Central Timezone and set our watches 45 minutes ahead. In Cocklebiddy: drinking, shade and on we go. Then it happens. 5 kilometers past Cocklebiddy the wind shifts to the south. It's still blowing at a bit of an angle, but we think it will work. Dirk and Stefan hook up a kite for the first time. They're still very cautious and start with the 5 square-meter version, then realize that it's only good for an average speed of 38 km/h. The next 40 kilometers are completely neutral when it comes to power consumption. The big, steerable kite transforms wind energy directly into movement. There's no turbine, no storage involved. It's a great way to move along. But conditions have to be right. The wind has to come in from the side and there can't be any trees on the side of the road …

Dirk is steering the kite, Stefan is driving. It's perfect teamwork and the two of them can't stop grinning about it. The sp-x kites from Spleene were truly the right choice. The de-powering zone is so forgiving that there's never a dangerous moment. Even with strong gusts, Dirk only has to press the steering bar upwards a bit to lower the overall force. It's all very well thought out. And the 25-meter lines keep the kite high enough over the road that the suction wakes of speeding trucks don't bother the kites at all.

It's not until the Madura Pass, the gateway to the famous Nullarbor Plain – a giant, treeless expanse stretching from the edge of the continent deep inland – that kiting comes to its abrupt end. Dirk rolls in the kite and Stefan keeps on driving into the distance. The batteries still have their full charge. This leg ends in Mundrabilla after 280.24 kilometers. What a great day.

At night the wind is gusty but strong. The wind turbine is protected by a hill. Dirk and Stefan were simply too drained and tired to do anything else. It's still 50 degrees C in the shade, the wind blowing into the kites is probably 10 degrees warmer, all of this has pretty well finished them off. They simply weren't able to find a better place to set up. Carrying the batteries and the turbine up the hill was out of the question as well. Still, the turbine pumps in a good three kilowatts this night. That's electricity enough for 150 kilometers at a cost of 75 cents.

 

 

28.01.2011

Day Three

Balladonia to Caiguna



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After covering a distance of 193.3 kilometers, the team meets up on the other side of Balladonia. Dirk and Sebastian in the escort car didn't make it through the night and went to sleep on the roof of the car in the early morning hours. After having breakfast in Balladonia, Stefan continues on his way. By the way, the names of these places in this part of Australia stand for little more than a gas station and affiliated restaurant -- everything a voyager needs. At precisely 207 km. the front set of batteries is empty.



We've made the first 1000 kilometers. Facit: the Wind Explorer is running dependably and all mechanical parts are working without a hitch. Li-Tec's lithium-ion batteries are simply out of this world. Charge after charge they nearly always show the same values. These batteries are supposed to work perfectly for 3000 charging cycles. That would be 1.2 million kilometers, based on our average distances covered. Amazing!

Meanwhile we're able to set up the wind turbine in 30 minutes and take it down just as quickly. It purrs like a kitten high atop the mast. Now all we have to do is get it to pump electricity into our batteries in the best way possible. 



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In Caiguna (once again, a gas station with a restaurant and not a town) we get a bit of long-distance telephone support from Germany. We're supposed to use a different setting on the wind turbine regulator's mainboard. Next step: set up the mast and take apart the regulator. After making a few adjustments to some tiny little tabs on the mainboard -- which you can hardly see with the naked eye and can only turn with an instrument from a microsurgery kit -- our wind turbine starts to turn in moderate wind (even though the gas station location isn't perfect because of the small trees all around it). But we're still not seeing power on the regulator. The green charging diode isn't on. That means the turbine is putting out less than 200 watts. Then, suddenly, there's more wind. The first gusts hit the rotor blades ... and we're ready to party! The batteries are taking on power and it's alot more than 200 watts. That's the way it's supposed to work. 



We stop our tour and keep the wind turbine set up for the night. The team is exhausted -- cameramen, drivers, photographers, the escort team, Daniel, Carsten, Dirk, Klaus, Adrian, Dirk, Stefan, Sebastian, Gerd and Dietmar are dead on their feet. Little sleep, 50 degrees C. in the shade, 40 degrees at night -- all that takes a lot out of you. We're sleeping in tents, on top of cars, in campers and constantly drinking, drinking, drinking ...


 

27.01.2011

Day Two


Raventhorpe past Esperance to Norseman / Baladonia to Caiguna

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We set off at 8:30 in the morning. The batteries have been fully charged in the wash kitchen. We've got a good 8 kilowatt hours at our disposal. That cost our host Peter about 2 dollars on his electric bill and it will power us for another 400 kilometers. While Dirk is getting ready to leave, the team is busy filling up the escort vehicles. Meanwhile a family from Western Australia is busily checking out the Wind Explorer's every detail. Three generations surround the vehicle asking all about what it is and how it works. The grandchildren climb into the passenger seat. It's the same thing every time. The Explorer draws a crowd wherever it is. Its striking design, the bicycle helmets from outer space and the purple and white paint job make it look like something from another planet.



Onward through the unending Australian bush. The road trains headed our way and passing us from behind present little danger. Temperatures are rising. We check the temperature of the batteries and wheel hub motor regularly. But they're cool. No problem. After 199.3 kilometers, the rear batteries are empty. We change drivers and switch to the front battery set. The hilly landscape and crosswinds have taken their toll. On level ground and without winds, we easily could have covered 20 kilometers more. Dirk is fascinated; he's developing a natural feel for how much electricity the motor is using and how far we can go on a single battery charge. Stefan and Dirk really don't have to read the meters and gauges anymore. They can estimate battery levely by simply looking at the odometer. Wind, inclines and stops for filming and taking pictures have an impact as well.



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At 2:55 in the afternoon we're at the turn-off for Norseman to the north. We'd really like to see Esperance. It has the most beautiful beaches of the west coast. But this isn't a sightseeing trip. We want to press on further to the east. First northwards to Norseman. then our route forks off to South Australia ... theoretically we could take out the kites for the first stretch. The wind is blowing from the east and the kites wouldn't be in the way of oncoming traffic since, after all, we're driving on the left side of the road. But we decide against it. We first want to make it to the Eire Highway in the direction of the Nullarbor Plain. If the police were to stop us this early in the tour for having a kite attached to our car, we'd be in a great deal of trouble. We're surprised by the first rain. The weather is kind of strange. The cyclone up north has stirred things up alot.



190.46 kilometers further we arrive in Norseman. We've got enough power for about another 20 kilometers. We stop at a pub. Dietmar Spoden, our battery specialist, takes our batteries in and plugs them into an outlet to charge. This isn't a suitable place to set up the wind turbine. There are too many shrubs and little trees. Our turbine, after all, is perched atop a 6-meter high mast. A mast twice that height would be ideal -- but let's not forget that we're the very first in the world to embark on such a mobility experiment with a wind turbine this size (rotor diameter 2.7 meters). We only set it up when and where it makes sense. We hope to finish fine-tuning the regulator tomorrow. The treeless expanse of Western Australia lies just before us.

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Our first little speed record. our onboard navigation system clocked us running downhill at 70.5 km/h. We'd like to point out that the Explorer takes off downhill almost like it does when you step on the gas... let's make that, 'turn the handle'. It accelerates so quickly by gravity that it's actually scary. That's all because of the aerodynamics and low-friction tires. 200 kilos plus driver can really take off...



Dirk pushes on with the Wind Explorer towards Balladonia at night. An escort car protects him from the road trains. The Explorer's two LED-headlights do a good job. For the time being, they're hooked up to a little motorcycle battery sitting on the passenger seat. That will all change in the future when the lights are powered by the main batteries. The current Wind Explorer is a prototype. Everything's still in flux. Kangaroos aren't a big problem, either. Trucks flying through here at 100 km/h run them down by the dozens. But we're cruising along at 50 km/h so there's nothing to worry about.



26.01.2011

The Tour starts in Albany, Western Australia

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We set up the wind turbine directly atop a granite cliff at "The Gap". 

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The Gap is a 40-meter deep canyon-like granite channel into which the waves surge in from the ocean. An infernal churning. Atop The Gap is one of Australia's growing number of wind farms. Stefan and Dirk secure the mast with climbing protection, 'friends' as they're called, and clamping wedges driven into the cliff face. It is a grandiose place to start the tour. Behind the cliffs there are green hills and in front of them white sand beaches. There wasn't much wind last night - about force three. That's not strong enough for the wind turbine to fully charge the Wind Explorer's lithium-ion batteries in the alotted 10 hours. For that we need full force 4 winds.

But it's not all that serious because we still have to fine-tune the system. The lithium-ion blocks are 'intelligent' high-tech batteries. They require a battery management system. Up until now, wind turbines only charged lead batteries. They're relatively easy for the turbine's regulator to manage. They are either full or empty. Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, work at much higher voltages and have to actively open the cells in charging. All this means we have to experiment a bit with regulator settings. We start charging:  a little over 8 kWh are fed into the four batteries. That's about 2 dollars worth of electricity - enough for about 200 kilometers.



After taking down the wind turbine, we set off at around 11:45 a.m. -- through Albany onto the highway toward Esperance. We have the same winds inland as on the coast, but a bit gustier.



We're in good spirits because the Wind Explorer has been running very well so far from Perth to Albany. The body's lightweight sandwich construction as a monocoque (akin to formula one race cars), the low-friction tires and Li-Tec batteries have made for a very reliable vehicle that can easily go the distance.



The Wind Explorer is also very aerodynamic. Velomobiel's team in The Netherlands really came up with a good design. Even crosswinds are barely noticeable. On the level road, the wheel hub motor draws about 20 amps -- or about one kW. At a speed of about 50 km/h this amounts to an energy consumption of about 2.0kW/h for 100 kilometers. As a comparison: for 100 kilometers, the Wind Explorer uses only about half the power needed to wash and dry a load of laundry.

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For the first 110 kilometers to Wellstead, it's quite hilly. The wind is form the side. The road follows the coast to the east. It's great fun rolling through Australia at about 50 km/h. You can take in everything ... the smell of plants, the stench of rotting kangaroo roadkills and the wind suction of giant trailer trucks, some of them 30 meters long, whizzing by.



For the second stretch from Wellstead to the vicinity of Fitzgerald, it turns out our rear batteries are empty. We have to switch to those in the front. Our GPS shows 206 kilometers and all that on 4 kWh. What great energy efficiency!

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After another 99 kilometers we make it to Raventhorpe by about 9 p.m. It's a little town with a lithium mine. Unfortunately, we can't stay long enough to visit the mine since we have to set off again very early tomorrow morning. Everything's closed in town except a pub. The owner's name is Peter. He came to Australia when he was seven. He speaks pretty good German and is putting together a barbecue for us. There's sufficient beer for the occasion ... and the Wind Explorer is plugged into a wall outlet in the wash kitchen somewhere between the washing machines and driers. The batteries still hold 1/4 of their total capacity. They're not entirely empty and will take 6 kWh more from the grid over night. That's about one and a half Australian dollars worth of electricity. We'll pay Peter back in the morning. The regulator still isn't adjusted properly to allow the batteries to be charged by the wind turbine. By the way, Stefan and Dirk are looking forward to using the kites for the first time. But conditions still haven't been optimal and being towed along by kites isn't something welcomed on the Australian highways. So we restrain ourselves for the first few days.



25.01.2011

First Kilometers

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The team is on the way to Albany on the continent's southernmost point. First encounters with baffled Australians. They're used to muscle cars of all sorts and chuckle about our wind-powered roadster. We pull up to a vintage car that's at least as ancient as its owner. Oldtimer meets high-tech. We listen to our 1.9 kW Crystalyte 5303 wheel hub motor purr alongside his 50-year-old English 6-cylinder.

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The team practices setting up the 6-meter bamboo mast and wind turbine on stones, fields and sand. We want to make sure sudden gusts and storms don't bring us any bad news.

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We're getting a bit nervous since the mountains on the way through Bunbury on the south coast present considerable challenges. But the photo ops for our cameras are amazing, especially when we see the Wind Explorer atop yet another peak in the evening light.

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Dietmar, our technical wizard, checks data from the battery management system and blackbox. The combination of wind-generated power and ultra-modern batteries that will soon power the e-smart is uncharted territory for all of us. We're the first in the world to learn about using these two technologies in mobility applications. The first thousand kilometers through Western Australia are just for tests in order to fine-tune the wind turbine and lithium-ion battery system.

23.01.2011

Preparations

Perth. Dirk and Dietmar are taking care of customs, cutting through the red tape to clear the Wind Explorer and all the replacement parts, taking apart the shipping crate and carting everything off to Sydney. The camping vans and escort vehicles are ready to go, stocking up on water and food, meetings with police scheduled. We're in trouble if we take routes that weren't cleared. One of the campers is being turned into a mobile video editing suite, everything else we need is in the other one. We've got at least two back-ups for all of the Explorer's moving parts.

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30.12.2010

First Tests

Our December 2010 tests in southern France are going so well that we don't see any problems for our Australian crossing.

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The Wind Explorer

Almost 5,000 km across Australia – Pioneering trip by the Wind Explorer

  • German extreme sportsmen achieve three records
  • First virtually emissions-free trip across a continent in a wind-powered/electric vehicle
  • Electricity cost for the entire trip was only €10
  • Pioneering spirit and German high-technology make a dream come true
  • Success driven by lithium-ion batteries and lightweight construction 

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Sydney/Essen. "We’re incredibly proud. A dream has come true," commented German extreme sportsmen Dirk Gion and Stefan Simmerer yesterday at the end of their two-and-a-half week pioneering trip across Australia. The two piloted the Wind Explorer, a lightweight electric vehicle, from Albany on the Indian Ocean to Sydney in 18 days and set three new records during their roughly 4,800 km trip: The first time a continent had been crossed by a vehicle powered by wind, the longest overall distance covered by an exclusively wind-powered land vehicle, and the longest distance covered in 36 hours. "What's more it was resource-efficient and had virtually no impact on the climate," said Simmerer. The Wind Explorer was powered by lithium-ion batteries, recharged by a portable wind turbine whenever wind conditions permitted. The 200 kg vehicle therefore only notched up electricity costs of around €10 for the almost 5000 km trip.

Gion and Simmerer came up with the idea for this record-breaking trip last summer. Just weeks later they found the necessary partners in German industry, led by Essen-based Evonik Industries AG. This industrial company provided the materials for the lightweight bodywork and the high-performance lithium-ion batteries. The battery pack with power of 8 kWh enabled the Wind Explorer to run for about 400 km in demanding temperatures of 60° C. Dr. Klaus Engel, Chairman of Evonik's Executive Board, congratulated the team: "This was a tremendous achievement by Dirk Gion and Stefan Simmerer. It shows what pioneering spirit and German high-technology are capable of."

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“The Wind Explorer is a vehicle that seems to come from the future. But it is already reality," said Gion. The special feature of the Wind Explorer is that it is an electric vehicle with its own mobile power supply. When the battery is empty, the pilots can recharge them via a portable wind turbine, if wind conditions allow, or via the conventional power network. It takes half an hour to erect the turbine and six-meter high telescopic mast made of bamboo. In addition to wind power, the Wind Explorer can be driven by kites. In this way, the lightweight vehicle reached speeds of around 80 kph as it crossed the states of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. 

The pilots left Perth on January 21, 2011. Having carried out various tests during the first 500 km, the real trip started in Albany on January 26, 2011. For the first 800km to Nullarbor Plain the Wind Explorer was driven entirely by electric power. Strong winds then enabled the pilots to use the kites. Finally, on January 31, 2011, the Wind Explorer achieved its best daily performance, covering 493 km. "It's great to see how lightweight construction and lithium-ion technology can provide a response to the problem of global warming," said Simmerer.

The record trip from Albany to Sydney was not the first feat by Gion and Simmerer. Gion made headlines in 2004/2005 with the "Earthflyer" kiteboard project in Australia and in 2006 as a water-skier towed by the “MS-Deutschland” cruise liner. In 1997 Simmerer was the first person to cross Chang Tang, the Tibetan high plateau, and climb Zangser Kangri (6,551 meters). He has since led expeditions in South America, Africa and Kamchatka.

Pioneering projects like the Wind Explorer are a good opportunity for German industrial companies to test their technology under extreme conditions and extend their technical edge. Competition is particularly tough in the automotive sector, which is increasingly turning its attention to electric and hybrid vehicles. New lightweight materials such as ROHACELL®, which was used in the Wind Explorer, and smart tire technologies that reduce rolling resistance are in great demand. However, the race for tomorrow's technology to power electric vehicles will be won principally by expertise in batteries. "Through our subsidiary Li-Tec we aim to become the European market leader in battery cells," said Dr. Engel, Chairman of Evonik’s Executive Board.