Butts Recycled as Energy Storage

Butts Recycled as Energy Storage

Researchers have discovered a method for converting cigarette ends into high-performing energy storage

Janet Burns
  • 11 august 2014

The day may come when smokers will proudly pool their butts for a higher purpose. According to new research, the composition of cigarette filters is seemingly ideal for coating the electrodes of supercapacitors.

As the Institute of Physics (IOP) announced this month, researchers at Seoul National University’s College of Engineering have demonstrated the superiority of cigarette butts, in comparison with currently available carbon and graphene, as an energy-storing material. As the IOP reported, the researchers speculate that the filters, when transformed by the team’s simple process, can be “integrated into computers, handheld devices, electrical vehicles, and wind turbines to store energy.”


In their study, the researchers revealed that cellulose acetate fibers, of which cigarette filters are mostly composed, can be transformed simply into a carbon-based material using a one-step burning technique called pyrolysis. Because of its high electrical conductivity, low cost, and long-term stability, the IOP explained, carbon is the most popular material for building energy-storing supercapacitors.


Scientists the world over are working to improve the capacity of supercapacitors, as well as to make them more cost efficient. As the study’s co-author Professor Jongheop Yi explained, turning cigarette butts into energy-efficient storage would be a twofold success:

Our study has shown that used cigarette filters can be transformed into a high-performing carbon-based material using a simple one-step process, which simultaneously offers a green solution to meeting the energy demands of society. Numerous countries are developing strict regulations to avoid the trillions of toxic and non-biodegradable used cigarette filters that are disposed of into the environment each year; our method is just one way of achieving this.


With an estimated 5.6 trillion (or 1,689,999,768 pounds of) discarded cigarette butts entering the environment every year, Seoul National University researchers aren’t the only ones probing this vast resource. Terracycle’s popular Cigarette Waste Brigade, harnessing smokers’ rubbish in communities throughout the US and Canada, has proven to be both an environmentally and a financially beneficial endeavor: special treatment facilities separate and compost organic materials from the butts and melt down the remaining plastic into pellets, which are used for building park benches, industrial pallets, and the like.


While the amount of US smokers continues steadily to dwindle, cigarette butts remain plentiful the world over, which might just be — if enterprising environmentalists and engineers have anything to do with it — a good thing, someday.

[h/t] CityLab

Images: Minzae Lee et al, CNW Group


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