Used cigarette butts turned into high-performing energy storage material

cigarette butts
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Axolot

Cigarettes are not only bad for your health, they're also bad for the environment. Used cigarette butts are the most frequently littered item, regularly discarded on sidewalks and out of car windows, making their way into waterways. It's estimated that about 5.6 million used cigarettes -- 766,571 metric tons -- are deposited into the environment worldwide each year.

A group of South Korean researchers have found a way to not only divert some of those used cigarette butts from ending up in the environment, but also a way to make them into something useful. They've found that the cellulose acetate that makes up most of the material in a cigarette butt can easily be changed into a carbon-based material that out-performs common materials used in energy storage devices.

"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," said Professor Jongheop Yi, from Seoul National University.

The researchers were able to transform the cellulose acetate into a carbon-based material with a simple burning technique called pyrolysis. After the technique, the carbon-based material had lots of tiny pores that allowed it to acta as a high-performing supercapacitive material.

They then attached the material to an electrode and tested it in a three-electrode system. They found that the material stored a higher amount of electricity than commercially available materials, graphene or carbon nanotubes.

The researchers believe that this new energy storage material could be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors to boost their performance or that it could even be integrated into electronics like computers and smartphones, built into wind turbines to store any extra generated energy, or to boost the storage capacity of electric car batteries.

Used cigarette butts turned into high-performing energy storage material
The material outperforms commercially available storage solutions and could be built into wind turbines, electric vehicles and personal gadgets.

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