Smoking may be a dirty and deadly habit, but the butts it leaves may hold the surprising key to a coating that can store large amounts of electrical energy.
Used cigarette filters could be used as a proper carbon source for a coating applied to the electrodes of supercapacitors, a group of researchers at South Korea's Seoul National University announced.
What's more, the team said its findings offer a material superior to those currently in use, like commercially available cotton, graphene and carbon nanotubes, according to the Institute of Physics.
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Researchers at Seoul National University say used cigarette butts can be turned into a coating that can store large amounts of electrical energy.
And it's a bonus for the environment, since about 5.6 trillion non-biodegradable, toxic cigarette butts, weighing roughly 766,571 tons, are tossed out each year.
Taking Carbon from Cigarettes
Used cigarette filters are largely composed of cellulose acetate, which could be used as a proper carbon source for supercapacitors, the researchers explained.
The cellulose acetate fibers can be turned into a carbon-based material using a simple one-step burning process called pyrolysis, the researchers said.
"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," said Jongheop Yi, co-author of the study.
Importance of Pores
The burning process results in a carbon-based material full of tiny pores, therefore increasing its performance as a supercapacitor material.
Both high surface area and proper pore size distribution are essential for electrode materials to utilize a large amount of electrolyte ions with quick transfer mobility, the researchers explained.
"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," Yi said.
The coating was then attached to an electrode to test how the material charged and discharged.
A paper on the research, "Preparation of energy storage material derived from a used cigarette filter for a supercapacitor electrode," was published in the August issue of IOP Publishing's journal Nanotechnology.