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Bloomberg Businessweek September 2, 2019

Each issue of Businessweek features in-depth perspectives on the financial markets, industries, trends, technology and people guiding the economy. Get the digital magazine subscription today and draw upon Businessweek's timely incisive analysis to help you make better decisions about your career, your business, and your personal investments.

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access_time8 Min.
even better living through chemistry

The inventor Buckminster Fuller once described technological progress as “ephemeralization.” Sunbeams and breezes are replacing coal and oil as energy sources, brands are more important than buildings to corporations, and fiat money has supplanted gold and silver. So it seems reasonable to conclude that the periodic table of elements—that wonky taxonomy of physical stuff such as copper, iron, mercury, and sulfur—is passé, no more relevant than a manual typewriter. Except exactly the opposite is true. Matter still matters. And on the 150th anniversary of the periodic table’s formulation by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, it’s more important than it’s ever been. True, technology has made the economy more virtual, but it’s also vastly increased the capability and sophistication of material objects. Much of the enhanced efficacy of jet engines, computer chips, and…

access_time1 Min.
getting on the hydrogen highway

◼ Hydrogen $0.01 / liter 99.95% Grade B gaseous It may not look like it, but the building under construction ① near the Norwegian port of Berlevag, is about to become part of the world’s most efficient wind farm. By early next year, it will house a device called an electrolyzer, which, powered by that Norse wind, will produce hydrogen fuel for a growing army of forklifts, cars, trucks, and buses. A hydrogen station ② ③ in the Oslo suburb of Hovik will soon be ready to fill them up. The hydrogen-battery revolution has been 10 years away for decades now. But Norway, Europe’s No. 1 in electric vehicles, is on track to become a leading adopter of the universe’s most abundant element. Proponents say it will become an essential component…

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storage wars

◼ Lithium $10.34 / kg 56.5% lithium hydroxide, China market ◼ Beryllium $500 / kg U.S. market ◼ Boron $0.43 / kg Average value of U.S. imports If the 20th century was the age of the internal combustion engine, the 21st belongs to the battery. Within a few decades, batteries will probably be the dominant source of power propelling cars and trucks, and they could even become commonplace in helicopters and planes. Far from their golf cart predecessors, today’s electric vehicles can reach ludicrous speeds while emitting far fewer pollutants than gas guzzlers. They’re also easier to make, and their batteries can be recycled. Carmakers from General Motors Co. to BMW AG are spending billions of dollars to make environmentally friendly transportation a reality. But the effort comes with its own environmental hazards,…

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a very high-end bike

Tougher than steel, lighter than aluminum, rather rare, and toxic if inhaled, beryllium is normally reserved for use in such high-tech applications as X-ray machines, spaceships, and nuclear reactors and weapons. But in the 1990s former triathlete Chris Hinshaw spotted a market opportunity: bicycles. His company in San Jose, Beyond Beryllium Fabrications, made about 100 bikes with the metal. Most were built using aluminum-beryllium alloys and sold for about $1,900; ones with weapons-grade beryllium went for as much as $30,000. Customers included baseball star Chili Davis. Hinshaw stopped making beryllium bikes after a few years because his main supplier, a Russian mine and refinery, became unreliable. “When the Soviet Union fell, we realized right away that there wasn’t an infrastructure in place, not only to make product but do it to the…

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the everything atom

◼ Carbon $0.11 / kg Minimum carbon price recommended by the UN Global Compact If chemistry were fair, the 118 elements would distribute themselves evenly among the 154 million substances in the American Chemical Society’s CAS Registry. It’s not. All but about 2 million have a molecular scaffolding of atom No. 6, carbon. It’s the diamond on the ring, and also a good bit of the finger wearing it. Here, by size and date of discovery, are a few mighty molecules brought to you by the letter C. BLOOMBERG (1); GETTY IMAGES (20)…

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computer chip

Silicon Valley gets its name, of course, from element 14, the essential stuff of the computer chip. In the early days of computing, the three parts of a chip—the wafer, or substrate; the transistors layered on top; and the wires connecting to a circuit board—required only a handful of elements. Today, chipmakers draw on a large swath of the periodic table. A chip just 10 millimeters wide can include billions of transistors. These tiny electrical switches, rapidly signaling 0 or 1, are etched onto the wafer and made of such materials as silicon and gallium arsenide. Silicon, cheap and ubiquitous, is still the most common wafer material. But gallium arsenide, aluminum oxide, and indium phosphide are also used. To increase processing speeds, chipmakers have expanded their repertoire of elements to include hafnium and…