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Cigarette butts…an unlikely energy resource for ?

7th August 2014 by Alessandro Maccioni
Will these stub out energy problems? (Author: Dick Rochester, shared via Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Now this may seem like a preposterous question, but here at JunkWize HQ we’ve been amazed to read about scientists from South Korea who believe they’ve found a way to convert cigarette ends into a highly efficient energy resource.

The claim comes from Seoul National University, where scientists say they have devised a one step process which transforms the would-be-junk into a coating for the electrodes of super capacitors – electrochemical components used to contain large amounts of electrical energy.

If we can get technical just for a second, the conversion technique is called pyrolysis and occurs when the cellulose acetate fibres that make up cigarette filters are burnt until they form a carbon-based material.

Professor Jongheop Yi, who led the research at Seoul National University said “A high-performing super capacitor material should have a large surface area, which can be achieved by incorporating a large number of small pores into the material.”

Encouragingly, the developers have showed the material’s superior performance to commercial competitors like carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes and hope it can be used in all manner of devices from computers and hand-helds to vehicles and wind turbines.

And if true, this procedure could potentially hit two scientific birds with one stone.

The other is the growing issue cigarette filters pose to the environment; they currently stand as the world’s biggest rubbish disposal problem.

“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.”

In terms of the figures, anti-smoking campaigners Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights claim that cigarette ends are the most littered item worldwide. According to their statistics, the 5.6 trillion cigarettes discarded worldwide accounts for 765,00 tonnes of waste every year. As a total, that’s not going to be stubbed out overnight.

As a rubbish clearance company, we certainly champion the research that Yi and his team are doing. If the claims they put forward prove to be true, they present a real cause for hope in the future pf the rubbish disposal industry.