Numlock News: September 20, 2022 • Deorbiting, Ants, Hurricane
By Walt Hickey
The price of lithium carbonate hit a new record on Friday at 500,500 yuan ($71,315) per ton in China, up more than 1,150 percent from the pandemic-era low in July 2020. The price spikes in lithium, as a critical component of batteries and electric vehicles, may soon present problems in pricing downstream for the electronics and cars that rely on it. Most lithium-ion cells and battery components are made in China, and electricity outages and a coming winter where energy may be in short supply are giving the lithium refiners pause, especially after Sichuan electricity outages in August slammed output in a place that has a fifth of the country’s lithium refinery capacity.
A new study estimated that there are 20 quadrillion ants on the Earth based on analysis of 489 studies, estimating that the total mass of ants is 12,000,000 tons. The new estimate of 20,000,000,000,000,000 ants is yet another piece of evidence for we who have spent years toiling on internet forums arguing that Ant-Man is significantly underpowered in the MCU and even the comics, that controlling 20 quadrillion tiny jaws operating in lockstep would by far make someone one of the most powerful entities on Earth if not beyond, that the shrinky stuff is nice but having 12,000,000 tons of minions at one’s beck and call makes Ant-Man a global power in his own right and the fact that he’s barely A-list is criminal.
Puerto Rico was slammed by Hurricane Fiona this week, coming just a few short years after Hurricane Maria rocked the island in 2017. The ramifications of that hurricane are still being felt, and the storms can leave massive indelible marks on the island for years thereafter, in some cases permanently altering the ecology of ecosystems. For instance, prior to Fiona, the endangered Puerto Rican plain pigeon had been through three major hurricanes since 1986: Category 4 Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Category 3 Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017. That last one nearly wiped the bird out; the population crashed from around 12,000 plain pigeons to just 750 birds, with population densities shattered in the east-central region it once called home. Hurricane-related extinction isn’t unprecedented: The Bahama nuthatch hasn’t been seen in the years since Hurricane Dorian leveled the pine forests in Grand Bahama where it lived in 2019.
Last week the FCC announced a new proposal that would require satellite operators to remove satellites from orbit within five years of the end of their active service in orbit, which would be a decrease from the current limit of 25 years after the end of service. This is an attempt to address the worsening problem of space junk and the hope to reduce the number of collisions, as the consensus is that 25 years is a bit too long, though a consensus has yet to form as to what is the correct length of time. That said, the five-year rule is expected to only slightly improve the situation over the current 25-year rule. Without any deorbit rule at all, modeling projects an estimated 133 collisions over the next two centuries. With a 25-year rule, that goes down to a projected 55 collisions, while a five-year deorbit rule lowers it to 43 collisions. Ideally, those who study this say, the deorbit time should be zero years, happening immediately after decommissioning.
Earlier this year, utility giant NextEra Energy bought the wastewater system of Towamencin township, Pennsylvania, for $115 million. The town has 18,000 people, but the water system went for a breathtaking amount given how much it actually earns annually. That $115 million figure is 21 times revenue, which is the third-largest multiple of all U.S. deals announced this year, the two beating it being in biotech. Why is a publicly-owned sewer system selling for startup numbers? Well, for one thing delivering vital services can be a lucrative business, especially if they crank up rates, and the U.S. water and wastewater sector is seen as a massive vital service full of little tiny operators, many municipally owned and managed, and are increasingly seen as potentially valuable commodities for rich utilities looking for areas to squeeze for profits. After all, as of 2020 water bills take up a larger share of U.S. disposable income than natural gas bills, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Office use in the five business days from September 8 to 14 hit 47.5 percent of pre-pandemic levels across 10 major metro areas, a new high. On Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, 55 percent of the pre-pandemic workforce was in a centralized office, a high of the pandemic era. Downtown Houston saw 63 percent of the pre-pandemic office workforce swipe in, up 10 percentage points since before Labor Day. New York saw its in-office rate increase to 46.6 percent compared to 38 percent the week earlier. That said, not all metros saw a spike: San Francisco’s rate was up just 2.3 percentage points post-Labor Day compared to pre-Labor Day, hitting 40.7 percent.
As of Thursday, the water level in Lake Powell is down to about 3,529 feet, which is 24 percent of capacity. The water level has been sustained by the upstream Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Green River, which has released a colossal volume of water downstream to boost the level of Lake Powell and avert a situation in which the Glen Canyon Dam, which powers 5.8 million homes, no longer has enough water to function. That happens when the water level dips below about 3,490 feet above sea level. The reality is, that’s just buying time, as they’ve dipped into Flaming Gorge to the tune of about 700,000 acre-feet over two years. Overall, the federal reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin are at about 34 percent of capacity.
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