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A New Energy Storage Solution Using Cigarette Butts

cigarette butts

Image credit: Ken Hawkins.

Each year, there are 5.6 trillion cigarette butts (weighing 766,571 metric tons) being thrown into the environment all over the world today. However, according to the article published in the recent edition of Nanotechnology, scientists are now trying to turn such waste into a useful thing, kind of material which could be used as a coating for the electrodes of supercapacitors, the electrochemical components to store the great amounts of energy. If it is integrated successfully, the material would be much helpful in providing power to phones and computers as well as EVs and wind turbines.

Instead of chemical reactions for batteries, supercapacitors would store energy by the means of electrical charges; it means they could be capable of charging and discharging in a much quicker way. However, they are so huge that they are unable to be used in small gadgets. Researchers are making efforts to find the more approaches to making better supercapacitors. By doing so, they are intended to target on carbon catachrestic of low cost, high electrical conductivity, and long-term stability.

As Jongheop Yi from Seoul National University said in a news release, their study has demonstrated that by resorting to a simple one-step process, the used cigarette butts could be turned into a high-performing carbon-based material. At the same time, such trial could also present a green solution to meeting the global energy requirements.

Being aware that cigarette filters are made of synthetic cellulose acetate fibers, Yi and his colleagues had collected filters from Marlboro Light Gold, Bohem Cigar Mojito, and the One Orange cigarettes and then transformed the toxic and non-biodegradable fibers into a carbon-based material by application of a one-step burning technique known as pyrolysis. Burning the fibers with nitrogen could lead to the creation of a carbon-based material filled with tiny pores, which could allow the material to be a better supercapacitive material as the surface area was increased. If different pore sizes were combined, it would make sure that the material would offer high energy densities.

In its experiment, Yi and his team attached such material to an electrode and examined it in a three-electrode system to identify how it could adsorb electrons (charge) and then release them (discharge) in an effective way. To their surprise, they discovered that it could store a higher amount of electrical energy in regard to those commercially available materials such as carbon and graphene as well as carbon nanotubes.

Image: Ken Hawkins via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Source: IOP

Journal reference: Lee, Minzae, et al. “Preparation of energy storage material derived from a used cigarette filter for a supercapacitor electrode.” Nanotechnology 25.34 (2014): 345601.