Converting Cigarette Butts Into Batteries

Trillions of cigarettes are smoked every year, leaving behind discarded filters containing non-biodegradable materials that can be recycled into carbon-based products for electrochemical components. This was discovered by a team of South Korean scientists who presented their unique energy storage solution in IOP Publishing’s journal of Nanotechnology.

The materials inside the cigarette filters offered up better performance than commercially bought carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes at the time. They hoped to coat electrodes of supercapacitors with the material to be inserted into computers, handheld devices, and electric vehicles. A simple one-step burning process called pyrolysis reduced the filters down into a carbon-based byproduct with tiny pores. The leftover porous substance ensured higher power densities for supercapacitors. This was then tested out to see how well the material absorbed electrolyte ions and discharged them. It did better than expected and stored higher amounts of electrical energy than other commercially available options.

The full paper is linked at the bottom of their article but it’s behind a paywall. If you have a subscription and the time to look it over, please let us know if you think there’s potential for this unorthodox material source or if they’re just blowing smoke.

[Thanks for the tip Ryoku!]

28 thoughts on “Converting Cigarette Butts Into Batteries

  1. Any commercial implementation would just use the clean, freshly manufactured filter material and avoid the expense of collecting used butts, which would need to be processed to remove leftover paper and tobacco.

    I’d bet the variability of the smoke etc that goes through the filters, saliva, various lip balms and cosmetics residue would introduce contaminants that would make the output product too variable to be usable in high precision capacitors.

    1. Yes, that is possible, but they don’t want to use used cigarette butts, they just use standart filters and burn them under precise conditions. It’s just media overexaggerating again and again.

        1. Pyrolysis reactors aren’t easy to build and operate since this stuff is sensitive to the composition of the atmosphere of the reactor (the tests done on this paper required Argon and Ammonia atmosphere, for carbon electrodes and nitrogen doped carbon electrodes respectively) and also to the temp…
          but for references on how to build one you can always go for academic papers… e.g: this guy designed a reactor as his thesis for getting his bachelor degree:
          this one made one for his master degree:
          And Fuel, a periodic about fuels (duh), has had a few different papers on pyrolysis reactor design on its issues.
          Sure none of these are step by step instructions on how to build a pyrolysis reactor but it still contains all the info you’d need to build one.

    1. you… I like you. For everything academia charges to tell students how to read text books, and the research grants by 3rd parties to do these things. Why is the information pay-to-see???

      1. Usually info of this level is pay 2 see because universities and private research institutes will pay for it, and these places are where the people who might actually quote these papers (on their own works) usually are, and these quotes are what will probably end up making them (the researchers and the universities/institutes) known and ultimately getting reputation to the university or company who made the research.

  2. True that they wouldn’t use used butts, however if they did any of the contaminants such as saliva, cosmetics etc would not contaminate the process because pyrolysis would take care of all of that.

  3. I’ve been saying for years that each filter should have a barcode for recycling.
    Add $1 to a pack of smokes(.05 per butt) and setup return machines in smoke shops.
    Just like cans and bottles.

      1. ‘…smokers need to suffer’. meh if they can’t figure out how to not burn their lungs, fuck them. They can always roll filter-free for themselves, no ‘butt-tax’ as [deadhp] suggested.

  4. Guys please! Pyrolysis is NOT a simple burning process, it requires controlled temperature and atmosphere with do away with the “simple”… and it’s done in absence of oxygen, so its no freaking burning at all.

  5. If the properties of pyrolyzed cellulose acetate are really that good, that’s extremely significant by itself. And warrants the use of virgin material. Which is then “smoked” under controlled conditions; if indeed that is necessary at all, which curiously isn’t made clear.

    Explicitly tying it to a green agenda only raises a lot of questions and doubts, many of which folks have already mentioned, though I could come up with a few more. So why would they do this, unless they’re hoping folks shut off their critical thinking at the mention of recycling the waste from those awful filthy smokers, and therefore fail to notice some unavoidable fatal flaw in the research?


    1. It would be funny if the key to the whole thing working so well was an individual smoker’s saliva, ala “The Medicine Man”.

      I hope they’re just a couple of kids who saw a problem (butt litter) and found a cool way to solve it, but sigh, you’re probably closer to the actual truth.

      (really just wanted to say, “butt litter”)

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