Numlock News: November 19, 2019 • Hydrogen, Kylie Cosmetics, The Wind
By Walt Hickey
Yogurt comes in dozens of possible varieties now, but nevertheless sales are in a slump. Overall U.S. sales of yogurt and yogurt beverages are expected to be $8.2 billion in 2019, down 3.6 percent from 2018 and down significantly from the peak of $9 billion in 2015. By 2024, yogurt sales are projected to drop 10 percent to $7.4 billion. The Yogurt industrial complex seems to think that the thing lacking is innovation, which in a space where the yogurt aisle has become functionally the United Nations is a bold claim indeed. Low-sugar, coconut-based or oat milk-based yogurts are seen as opportunities. My pitch: find a television chef willing to do for Tzatziki what Guy Fieri did for Donkey Sauce, problem solved people.
After water, sand is the single most used natural resource on earth, and we’re running out of it. Every year, people use 50 billion tonnes of sand and gravel aggregate, and that’s causing issues. Sand is an exhaustible resource, as the wind-swept stuff in deserts isn’t the kind that makes for good concrete. You need the stuff that's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. That angular sand, the kind found on riverbeds, is the good sand for concrete and earthworks. Humans have added an estimated 5,237 square miles of artificial land to the world’s coasts since 1985, which is roughly one Jamaica worth of new land.
The Wind Rises
Atmospheric and oceanic shifts have led to increasing wind speeds worldwide. In northern latitudes, average wind speeds have risen 7 percent since 2010 according to new research published in Nature Climate Change, which is good news in the sense that wind farms will produce significantly more energy than previously anticipated. If the trend continues, wind power generation could increase 37 percent. These types of shifts take decades to happen and the increase in wind speeds will continue at least another decade.
The Netherlands is taking active steps to rein in light pollution, and it’s beginning to pay off. Worldwide the total area of earth that was artificially lit grew 2.2 percent from 2012 to 2016, and cities became 2.2 percent brighter year over year. The Milky Way is not observable for 80 percent of Americans and 60 percent of Europeans, and The Netherlands is one of the brightest countries in all of the continent, with a very high population density. Hence, a new national campaign — Nacht van de Nacht, or Night of the Night — calls for local governments and companies to kill the lights one night of the year, and people go into the woods to soak the dark in. It’s led to broader changes, like a major billboard company turning off the lights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. amid absent demand, and the Dutch turning off artificial lighting on unused sections of highway. This sounds like a great idea I’d love to see implemented elsewhere, so if you’ll excuse me I have a Queens community board meeting to get unanimously laughed out of.
Bona Fide Billionaire
Kylie Jenner has sold a $600 million controlling 51 percent stake in her cosmetics company to Coty Inc., the company behind CoverGirl and Clairol. Kylie Cosmetics is on track for $200 million in sales this year, and the company is now valued at $1.2 billion. The $52 billion U.S. beauty market has been thoroughly disrupted by firms like Jenner’s and rival Glossier: independent makeup brand sales were up 24 percent in 2017 compared to the overall market average of 5.9 percent.
The average time spent per day watching online videos grew from two minutes per day in India in 2012 to 52 minutes per day as of 2018. Indians’ demand for online content has long been satisfied by YouTube, which has 265 million users in the world’s largest democracy, but Chinese app TikTok has been positively exploding in popularity there. The app supports 15 Indian languages, and is leading to the classic cocktail of fame, fortune, and disaster that all new social media crazes bring. TikTok counts 200 million users in India, and it’s the most downloaded app in the country in large metropolises and small villages alike.
The reality is that it’s really, really hard to get the temperatures needed in factory furnaces without fossil fuels and the greenhouse gasses they produce, but hydrogen could be the answer if the economics get a little better. It flames at 3,632 Fahrenheit and gives off just water vapor, we use it in space ships and it’s great. Producing hydrogen is pricey, and the cheap ways currently involve splitting up hydrocarbons, which produces carbon dioxide which leaves us with the same problem we began with. But now new research is working on electrolysis, where electricity is run through water to make hydrogen and which can be powered with green energy sources. Green hydrogen costs $2.50 to $6.80 per kilogram to make, partly because the electrolysis that produces it is pricey when powered just by renewables alone. To compete with coal, that price would have to drop to $2, and to compete with the cheapest natural gas production it’d have to drop to 60 cents per kilogram. European companies in particular are working on making the cost to produce hydrogen drop thanks to moves by their governments.
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