Numlock News: January 12, 2022 • Polysilicon, Portugal, 2.5D idols
By Walt Hickey
The final numbers are in, and for the first time since tracking began in 1991, annual sales of vinyl records beat annual sales of CDs. From 2020 to 2021, sales for CDs increased from 40.2 million to 40.6 million, but over the same period vinyl sales exploded 51 percent to hit 41.7 million. Vinyl dominated music sales until 1984, when it was surpassed by cassette tapes, which briefly reigned over music distribution until 1991, when CDs dominated the market for almost two decades. By 2010, downloads and music subscription services had pushed CD sales to less than 50 percent of the market, and after the dominance of the download, today streaming music is king. Over that time, vinyl sales bottomed out at $26 million in 2006, but as of 2020 a new surge in popularity pushed them to $620 million in sales.
Magawa, a mine-clearing rat responsible for sniffing out over a hundred landmines and explosives in Cambodia and clearing 141,000 square meters of land, has died at the age of 8 following a pleasant retirement. The five-year career of the rodent was the most successful of any rat trained by Apopo, a Belgian charity that trains rats to smell the chemical compounds in landmines and alert human handlers of their presence, who are then able to clear them. Magawa was recently awarded the PDSA medal for gallantry for a "life-saving devotion to duty," and was one of a legion of animals working with NGOs to clear the 6 million landmines in Cambodia. Magawa retired in June and, while he’d remained in relatively good health, had reached an old age for rats.
While major American technology companies putter about a forthcoming ‘metaverse’ where you can ‘work’ or ‘shop,’ Japan is already rolling with virtual boy bands such as Strawberry Prince, a lineup of six anime boys that serve as the forward-facing look for six human performers: sort of a Gorillaz situation but with an Ouran High School Host Club aesthetic. Called 2.5D idols — more than 2D, not quite 3D — it’s certainly working for them; they’ve got 5.9 million TikTok followers, 7.4 million followers on Line and a combined 9 million subscribers on YouTube where they also have 4.9 billion views. And for all that, they’re technically an indie band: They’re not signed to a traditional agency. Japan is home to 10,000 virtual YouTubers, which first began to emerge in 2016. Their concerts, which used motion-capture technology, drew up to 170,000 simultaneous viewers. Those numbers are wild and I’m looking forward to American media businesses investing in the market. Indeed, let’s kick this off right now: Numlock is now launching a nationwide talent search for six anime boys to serve as the front-facing co-authors of this newsletter.
The share of the population in Latin America that identifies as Catholic has decreased from 80 percent in 1996 to 59 percent in 2018, a crisis for a faith that has long seen its most robust growth in the region and one which currently has a Latin American pope. Right now, 41 percent of the world’s Catholics are in Latin America and the Caribbean, and any significant slip could pose issues for the faith globally. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, but at the current rate it’s projected that Catholics will account for less than 50 percent of Brazilians by July. Part of the decline is competition from other faiths, though not the mainline Protestant churches; much is from faiths such as Pentecostalism, an evangelical tradition that comes from the United States. Of the 19 percent of Latin Americans who identified as Protestant in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 65 percent were Pentecostal.
The Boundary Dam Power Station in Saskatchewan is the site of the world’s only carbon capture project on a large power plant, in this case a coal plant. Operations began in 2014, and after a facility in Texas went offline in 2020 it’s now the only power plant in the world that attempts to capture its own emissions. The bad news is it’s not going great: The carbon capture project caught 43 percent fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021 compared to 2020, and while it’s got a 90 percent maximum capacity, it only managed to capture 44 percent of emissions. The plant has experienced frequent outages, a red flag for policymakers who think you can just slap a carbon capture system next to a coal plant and assume it’s fine to burn full steam ahead.
Rich guys who want to buy sports teams are running into a market where pretty much all the good teams are taken. As a result, lots of money these days is working its way into lower leagues, particularly the mid-tier European soccer teams that can actually achieve solid returns through their development system. For those teams, there aren’t lots of revenue streams beyond when development programs find promising players that can be sent to the big clubs for top-dollar transfer fees. Portugal’s teams have been of interest: With a population of 10 million, Portugal has produced 4,200 transfer players that brought in $4.3 billion in transfer fees in the last decade alone, exporting more top soccer players per capita than any other country. By comparison, Brazil has 220 million people and has sent 7,300 transfer players for $2.8 billion in the same period.
Solar panels are made by slicing polysilicon into thin wafers, which are then made into cells and built into the equipment you’ve come to expect. Raw material prices for that polysilicon increased substantially last year following years of falling prices, largely as demand outpaced supply. Thanks to billions of dollars of investment, particularly in China, that bottleneck will soon be gone, hopefully indefinitely. At the start of 2021, solar companies had the ability to produce 624,800 tons of polysilicon per year, a figure poised to rise to 1.3 million tons by the end of 2022 and, factoring in future projects currently in development, eventually 2.9 million tons. About 850,000 tons of that was announced in December, announcements resulting from China’s decision to loosen strict industrial energy consumption rules for businesses producing renewable power materials.
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