cigarettes for storing energy
August 6, 2014

Potential New Energy Storage Solution – Cigarette Butts

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

One of the most annoying parts of being around smokers is finding cigarette butts ground out everywhere. You see them littering the streets, on sidewalks, and in the grass. Finally, however, there may be an exciting new use for these annoying byproducts.

A new study from Seoul National University, published in Nanotechnology, demonstrates that used cigarette butts can be made into a high performing material capable of being integrated into computers, handheld devices, electrical vehicles and wind turbines to store energy.

The material has shown itself to be superior in performance when compared to commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes. The researchers hope to ultimately coat the electrodes of supercapacitors, which are electrochemical components able to store enormous amounts of electrical energy.

Because there are an estimated 5.6 trillion (approximately 766,571 metric tons) of used cigarette butts dumped into the environment every year, the team hopes their discovery will help to create a solution for the negative environmental impact caused by this byproduct of smoking.

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

The majority of supercapacitors are made of carbon because of its low cost, high surface area, high electrical conductivity and long term stability. Globally, researchers are working to improve the characteristics of superconductors such as energy density, power density and cycle stability. Another major goal is to reduce the production costs of the conductors.

Cigarette butts are mainly comprised of cellulose acetate fibers, which the current study shows can be transformed into a carbon-based material using a simple, one-step burning technique called pyrolysis.

The material that is created by this process is carbon-based and contains a number of tiny pores which increases its performance as a supercapacitive material.

"A high-performing supercapacitor material should have a large surface area, which can be achieved by incorporating a large number of small pores into the material," continued Professor Yi.

"A combination of different pore sizes ensures that the material has high power densities, which is an essential property in a supercapacitor for the fast charging and discharging."

The team fabricated the material, then attached it to an electrode for testing. They assessed its ability to absorb electrolyte ions (charge) and then release electrolyte ions (discharge) in a three-electrode system.

The tests revealed that the material stored a higher amount of electrical energy than commercially available carbon. When compared to the results of previous studies, the new material also outperformed graphene and carbon nanotubes.