For decades, sewage has been treated and used for irrigating crops, parks, and golf courses, but making it fit for human consumption requires a much more rigorous filtration technology using polymer membranes. No thicker than a human hair, the membranes are at once delicate and durable. Using pores smaller than one-millionth of a millimeter, they’re capable of wiping out microscopic contaminants. ... the water division at Dow Chemical, he pulls in more than $1 billion in sales annually. The membrane market is growing more than 10 percent a year in part because of increasing water scarcity worldwide and ever more pressure to develop drought-proof water supplies from new sources. ... The whole concept of recycled sewage might be harder to swallow if there weren’t already so much sewage in the water sources we routinely draw from. ... the very reason chemists created these synthetic membranes decades ago is that, increasingly, humans have been contaminating the water supply. Industries have emerged, meanwhile, that need purer water for manufacturing. Most major players in the automotive, beer and wine, food processing, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, and semiconductor industries, for example, rely on water purified by membranes. ... recycling wastewater is about half the cost of desalinating ocean water: Both use RO membranes, but the salinity of ocean water is much higher, so it’s harder and much more energy-intensive to pump it through the tiny holes.
They accumulated even more debt of LyondellBasell Industries NV (LYB), the world’s largest manufacturer of polypropylene, before it filed for bankruptcy in January 2009. … The Lyondell bet paid off. The $2 billion Apollo sank into the company, whose products are used to make tires and bathroom fixtures, has turned into a $9.6 billion paper profit, the biggest gain ever on a private-equity investment, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. … That eclipses the $7 billion that Henry Kravis’s KKR & Co. reaped from the 1986 buyout of supermarket chain Safeway Inc. and a similar profit that a group led by financier J. Christopher Flowers reaped from the 2000 takeover of the predecessor to Tokyo-based Shinsei Bank Ltd.
A naturally occurring oxide, TiO2 is generally extracted from ilmenite ore and was first used as a pigment in the 19th century. In the 1940s chemists at DuPont refined the process until they hit on what’s widely considered a superior form of “titanium white,” which has been used in cosmetics and plastics and to whiten the chalked lines on tennis courts. DuPont has built its titanium dioxide into a $2.6 billion business, which it spun off as part of chemicals company Chemours, in Wilmington, Del., last fall. ... A handful of other companies produce TiO2, including Kronos Worldwide in Dallas and Tronox of Stamford, Conn. Chemours and these others will churn out more than 5 million tons of TiO2 powder in 2016. China also produces large amounts of the pigment, and its industries consume about a quarter of the world’s supply. Most of China’s TiO2 plants, however, use a less efficient and more hazardous process than the one developed at DuPont. Starting in the 1990s, if not earlier, China’s government and Chinese state-run businesses began seeking ways to adopt DuPont’s methods. Only they didn’t approach the company to make a formal deal. According to U.S. law enforcement officials, they set out to rip off DuPont. ... Most trade-secret theft goes unreported. Companies worry that disclosing such incidents will hurt their stock prices, harm relationships with customers, or prompt federal agents to put them under a microscope. Theft of trade secrets also rarely results in criminal charges because the cases are time-consuming and complicated, and it’s often difficult to win a conviction for conspiracy to commit espionage. A 2013 study estimated that China accounted for as much as 80 percent of the $300 billion in losses sustained by U.S. companies from the theft of intellectual property. Often, China won’t even release the records or serve the subpoenas that might contribute to a prosecution. To win in court, companies must prove they properly safeguarded their trade secrets, something many fail to do.
It will take at least three years for Takata and other manufacturers to make enough air bags to replace the company’s defective ones. Because of their chemistry, Takata’s devices become less stable over time. That leaves millions of drivers with cars that could contain an air bag that’s like a ticking time bomb. ... Takata, founded by the Takada family in the 1930s as a textile maker, produced parachutes for the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. In 1960, Takata began manufacturing seat belts for Japan’s carmakers, which were leading the country’s industrial expansion. It was the only company whose seat belts passed the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test standards in 1973. ... Air bags deploy in controlled explosions. Their designs are drawn from rockets and munitions. A former Honda engineer, Saburo Kobayashi, described Takada’s reservations in a 2012 memoir. “If anything happens to the air bags, Takata will go bankrupt,” Takada said, according to the book. “We can’t cross a bridge as dangerous as this.” Eventually, he relented. ... Lillie says he left Takata in 1999, partly because the company ignored his warnings about ammonium nitrate. He says Takata’s executives and workforce were unprepared to take on such a difficult design and manufacturing process. “Takata engineers claimed they had this magic,” he says. “No one else could figure it out, and they had.”
The company’s deliberateness and caution may seem out of step in an age when management gurus celebrate a “fail fast” ethos. But for nearly three decades it has been a pace that has seemed to sit well with health-minded and environmentally conscious consumers, who have made Seventh Generation the biggest green cleaning brand in the U.S. market, with some $250 million in annual sales. In a relatively sleepy industry, the company’s revenues have averaged double-digit growth rates since 2006. ... The deal is a bet by Unilever on the continued evolution of a species: the eco-conscious consumer—an alert, premium-paying shopper. Initially that group was concerned only (or mostly) with what they put inside their bodies. Next they became more selective about what they put on them—and finally with what’s around them. In other words, says Nitin Paranjpe, president of Unilever’s home-care business, “it started off first in food, then moved to personal care, and now to home care as well. The entire natural segment is clearly on trend.” ... These shoppers, the theory goes, don’t just want cleaners that sound as though they’ve got a whiff of sage and citrus, but ones that are actually free of ingredients that consumers can barely pronounce and don’t understand. This demand for purity and simplicity, after all, has been one of the biggest drivers in the food industry for the past few years. ... another challenge for Seventh Generation now isn’t getting things clean, necessarily, but changing shoppers’ minds about what clean means. Consumers typically evaluate a detergent based not only on whether it removes stains and brightens clothes but also on whether it leaves them smelling “clean.” The problem is, clean isn’t supposed to smell like anything.
Whether it takes the form of a touch of the Holy Spirit at a Florida revival meeting or a dip in the water of the Ganges, the healing power of belief is all around us. Studies suggest that regular religious services may improve the immune system, decrease blood pressure, add years to our lives. ... Religious faith is hardly the only kind of belief that has the ability to make us feel inexplicably better. ... just as a good performance in a theater can draw us in until we feel we’re watching something real, the theater of healing is designed to draw us in by creating powerful expectations in our brains. These expectations drive the so-called placebo effect, which can affect what happens in our bodies as well. Scientists have known about the placebo effect for decades and have used it as a control in drug trials. Now they are seeing placebos as a window into the neurochemical mechanisms that connect the mind with the body, belief with experience. ... How does a belief become so potent it can heal? ... Most astonishingly, placebos can work even when the person taking them knows they are placebos.
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Why should we care about a Chinese chemical company buying a Swiss agricultural business, however mammoth the deal might be? For starters, it’s part of a wave of global consolidation in agriculture that will put an increasingly large portion of the world’s commercial seed market—roughly 50%—under the control of a few giant multinationals. In addition to the ChemChina/Syngenta union, Dow Chemical is buying DuPont, and Germany’s Bayer is in the process of swallowing up Monsanto, perhaps the most controversial producer of genetically modified seed species. This combined $170 billion deal binge promises to have a profound impact on the future of global agriculture. ... Beyond that, ChemChina’s purchase of Syngenta provides valuable insight about China’s broader view of its future. The deal signals important trends in the country’s policy on innovation, biotechnology, intellectual property, and globalization.
Talking Tom Cat was an instant hit, launching a franchise whose titles have reached No. 1 in more than 100 countries on the App Store. Today, almost 350 million monthly active users support the apps, and Tom’s YouTube channel has more than 2 billion views. Unlike many mobile app creators, the Logins have proved adept at turning popularity into profit. Playing Talking Tom triggers an onslaught of advertising and in-game purchase offers, and Outfit7 earns more than $100 million a year. In early 2016 the Logins decided to cash out, hiring Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to find the most lucrative deal. ... The industrialists were willing to match the Logins’ asking price of $1 billion and let their team maintain autonomy. Samo and Iza signed away their company—having never taken money from outside investors, their stake was worth about $600 million. ... It’s hard to see the synergies between a maker of chemical solvents and a digital cat perched over a toilet. And curiously, the buyer, which had recently been renamed Zhejiang Jinke Entertainment Culture Co., had revenue of only $133 million in 2016, according to Bloomberg data pulled from regulatory filings, and its gross profit was $55 million. Jinke won’t say where the money to buy Outfit7 came from. ... The deal activity can best be understood as a consequence of quirks in the Chinese stock market. In China, industrial companies trade at valuations they’d never receive elsewhere in the world. ... some may trade at as much as 100 times their annual earnings—more than four times the multiple of General Electric Co. This means they can acquire companies at what is effectively a discount. ... Chinese companies are betting that by adding game studios that have better margins than a stodgy industrial business, their stock price will rise.