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Cigarette butts transformed into high-performance supercapacitor component


August 6, 2014

Research from the Seoul National University suggests that discarded cigarette butts could be used as a high-performance energy storage material (Photo: Shutterstock)

Research from the Seoul National University suggests that discarded cigarette butts could be used as a high-performance energy storage material (Photo: Shutterstock)

Billions of cigarette butts are discarded around the world each year and, even when disposed of properly, pose a threat to the environment by leaching arsenic, lead and other nasty chemicals into land and waterways. New research shows these butts could be set for a new lease on life, with a team of Korean scientists demonstrating that used cigarette filters could actually double as a highly-effective energy storage material.

Scientists from Seoul National University found that through a process called pyrolysis, the cellulose acetate fibers that make up the filter of a cigarette could be transformed into a carbon-based material that can be used as a high-performing component for supercapacitors; long-lasting, fast-charging devices capable of storing huge amounts of energy. The pyrolysis process involves a one-step burning technique that creates tiny holes of varying size in the material to increase its total surface area.

“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,” says Professor Jongheop Yi, one of the study's authors. “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 put its new material to the test by attaching it to an electrode and observed it in a three-electrode system, taking note of the material's ability to absorb and then discharge electrolyte ions. They found it stored a higher amount of electrical energy than graphene, carbon nanotubes and carbon, a material popular for use in conventional supercapacitors.

The scientists are hopeful that by coating the supercapacitor's electrode in the new carbon-based material, it could lead to better energy storage for electric vehicles, wind turbines and mobile devices.

The team's research was published in the journal Nanotechnology.

Source: Institute of Physics

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars

Nice strategy....if you are a minority non-smoker.

Why not pure un-smoked cellulose acetate butts? Collecting all those used and contaminated butts will cost more than the pure and fresh.

So by collecting used butts, the 'leading scientists' will somehow make all those nasty 'elements' disappear? Up whose chimney?

If this technology works in principle, cigarette smokers will pay for the new scarcity of cellulose acetate, and pay again for the 'economic' recycling of their discards.

Oh...good stuff on all that supercapacitor thingymajig!


This is a stunningly bad idea on so many levels. An American researcher already found that chicken feathers are a great source of carbon fibre when pyrolized. The nicotine and other smoke components on a used filtre are irrelevant, they would be reduced to basic atomic materials in the pyrolytic reduction. The point that matters is to use readily available waste materials to produce carbon fibre or graphene,etc. Trying to collect cigarette filtres is a gigantically bad idea.


threesixty - for your information non-smokers are not a minority but the majority. You polluter should pay for the damage you cause in the invironement and the cost of health care that you exponentially cause.


I surely wecome any initiative that will reduce the amount of cigarettbutts on the ground. Reasonable or not.

Conny Söre


How about comparing the pollution created by non-essential operation of motorised vehicles to that by the smokers? I can guarantee you that even extremely heavy smokers create less pollution in a day than that by 10 minutes of non essential driving of any internal combustion engine.


I think the naysayers on this are being silly. It's not like the cigarette smokers are suddenly going to stop. I think it would be pretty easy to get enough butts for this from one city.

If they pipe the smoke through an algae farm they can make biofuel at the same time. Then pump the smoke from that biofuel back into making biofuel and you have an efficient feedback loop of energy production.

Recycling them is better then having them become pollution and killing fish.

Ben O'Brien

Good idea, but ... we should first try to eliminate all smoking first! Giving a "good, justifiable" use for the butts will only give smokers an excuse to continue smoking, and killing themselves...

Nestor Albuquerque

Any chance of converting the smokers into something environmentally more friendly?

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