Representatives of the world’s biggest brands are in Johannesburg this week at World Retail Congress Africa, trying to figure out how to sell to a fast-growing, but also very challenging market. Among them are many American-based brands like Coca-Cola and Google.
All the calculations that go into where American companies expand basically boil down to one thing: risk versus reward. The continent offers both in ample supply.
“The returns in Africa are potentially huge,” says New York University economist Yaw Nyarko, originally from Ghana. “But it’s also risky. That’s why they call it an emerging market, right? It’s a frontier market.”
Some frontiersmen get rich. Others get eaten by the local wildlife. Succeeding in Africa requires hacking through legal and bureaucratic tangles and dealing with poor infrastructure.
But African countries have made big strides recently, all while conflicts ended and population boomed.
“By 2050, it is likely to have 25 percent of the world’s population,” predicts University of Pennsylvania international business professor Mauro Guillen. “By the end of the century it is likely to have 35 percent of the world’s population.”
Numbers like that are why global brands want to gain a foothold now.
Mark Garrison: All the calculations that go into where American companies expand boil down to one thing: risk versus reward. NYU economist Yaw Nyarko is from Ghana.
Yaw Nyarko: The returns in Africa are potentially huge. But it’s also risky. That’s why they call it an emerging market, right? It’s a frontier market.
Some frontiersmen get rich. Others get eaten by the local wildlife. Investing in Africa means hacking through legal and bureaucratic tangles.
Nyarko: It’s not as straightforward as the United States. You’d have to go through governments. The regulatory framework is important. Those are some of the challenges there.
Others include poor infrastructure. But African countries have made big strides recently, all while conflicts ended and population boomed. Mauro Guillen is an international business professor at the Wharton School. He marvels at how many potential consumers will be in Africa by mid-century.
Mauro Guillen: It is likely to have 25% of the world’s population. By the end of the century it is likely to have 35% of the world’s population.
And that’s why global brands want to gain a foothold now. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.
President Obama made it a priority to invest in advanced battery technology as an investment in the future. But another technology is revolutionizing energy storage today: the supercapacitor.
Your smartphone camera flash probably uses one, hybrid cars are using them to capture the energy when they brake, and in China they power some electric buses for short distances.
Supercapacitors are a new kind of energy storage with some big advantages. They charge up hundreds of times faster than a battery, never wear out and need replacing, and they don’t care about temperature extremes.
Inside a supercapacitor you’ll find what looks like a stack of black and white sheets of paper -- none of the chemicals inside a battery. That’s because it stores a static electricity charge and doesn’t rely on chemical reactions.
“It’s good for rapid, high-current events, both charging and discharging,” says Mike Sund, avice president at San Diego-based Maxwell Technologies, which sells over $100 million of them every year. While they make some smaller products, “The great bulk of our business is with the large-format styles that are used in windmills, transit buses, and automobiles.”
In the few years they’ve been on the market, supercapacitors have been getting better and smaller. Shrinking them down, or increasing their energy density to something approaching a battery’s, is the goal.
And there have been a couple of big breakthroughs this year. In Australia, Monash University materials scientist Dan Lee led a team that built one with the same energy density as a regular lead acid car battery.
What makes this possible is a new form of carbon called graphene. It’s only one atom thick -- practically 2-dimensional -- and they layered sheets of it very closely.
Over at UCLA, Dr. Richard Kaner and his grad student Maher El-Kady came up with a unique manufacturing process. “The method we used to produce graphene supercapacitors is as simple as we take a $25 device used for labeling CD discs.” They coat the disc; and then when it comes out they peel off a sheet of flexible supercapacitors!
“So you can literally print large supercapacitors, or we’ve printed on a single CD disc over a hundred micro-supercapacitors,” Kaner says. This could have almost immediate applications, like roll-up video displays, wearable electronics, or even pacemakers.
Kaner continues: “There are a lot of things that supercapacitors are being used for. My favorite is there’s a train station in Europe that has a revolving door connected to a supercapacitor that operates the restaurant next door.”
And this kind of creative use is only going to increase in the coming years.
The Senate is scheduled to take a key vote on a bill to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity... a congressman running to be Maine's governor comes out... Romney accuses Obama of dishonesty.
India will try its hand at interplanetary exploration on Tuesday as the country launches its first unmanned Mars orbiter, the Mangalyaan. If successful, India will be the fourth nation to reach Mars, and they're doing it for the relatively inexpensive -- at least by America standards -- price of $72 million.
"It's there for scientific purposes, but it's also there for morale -- and for the Indians to say to China, 'Hey, we can do it. Doesn't look like you can,'" says the BBC's Rahul Tandon, reporting from Calcutta.
But the mission isn't without controversy.
"We talk a lot about the next century being the one for the Chinese and the Indians, and the space race, I think, is an important part of that," Tandon says. "But there are many people here in India who say, in a country with such high levels of malnutrition, with such poor levels of infrastructure -- half the population not having access to toilets -- should India really be involved in such a race at all?"
Also: Report alleges that doctors have been "complicit" in torture at CIA and military prisons; former Pakistani leader Musharraf is granted bail; and coaches of two NFL teams are hospitalized.
"I am Egypt's legitimate president. I refuse to be tried by this court," the ousted leader declared. He and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders are accused of inciting violence that led to the deaths of protesters. After their show of defiance, the trial was postponed.