Scientists in South Korea have successfully converted used cigarette butts into a high performing material that could be integrated into computers, handheld devices, electric vehicles and wind turbines to store energy.
Using a “simple one step process” co-author Professor Jongheop Yi of Seoul National University says that the new materials outperforms currently available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes. It could potentially be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors: electrochemical components that can store extremely large amounts of electrical energy.
“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,” adds Professor Yi.
Carbon is the go to material to coat supercapacitors as it is cheap, plentiful has a high surface area and high electrical conductivity. However, if this new material outperforms the commercially available option it could provide a great solution to the massive issue of cigarette waste.
Scientists around the world have been working towards improving the characteristics of supercapacitors while also trying to reduce production costs.
In the study by Seoul National University, the researchers demonstrated that the cellulose acetate fibers that cigarette filters are mostly composed of could be transformed into a carbon-based material using a burning technique called pyrolysis.
As a result of this burning process, the resulting carbon-based material contained a number of tiny pores, increasing its performance as a supercapacitive material.
Cigarette butts are the most common form of plastic litter on the beaches of the US and around the world. As well as being an eyesore, toxic chemicals continually leach out of the butts causing a plethora of issues particularly in marine wildlife. Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds and other marine wildlife who mistake them for food. Estimates of the amount of cigarette butts found on beaches run into the trillions as any butts dropped on the street eventually make their way to the ocean via the storm water system.
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