Energy storage: Cigarette butts better than commercial carbon, say scientists

Cigarette butts used for energy storage solution
South Korean researchers say the high performing carbon material found in most cigarette butts could one day be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors

In Asia, South Korean scientists have developed an energy storage solution using cigarette butts for application in electric vehicles, wind turbines, computers and handheld devices. 

The research team managed to convert used butts into a high performing material that they claim outperforms commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes, according to the findings in ‘Nanotechnology’ journal.

Jongheop Yi, co-author and a professor at Seoul National University, said: “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 for 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.”

Energy storage supercapacitors

The researchers confirmed they used a burning technique called pyrolysis to turn the cellulose acetate fibres found in most cigarette filters into a carbon- based material.

This in turn can be used as a supercapacitive material, which one day could be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors – electrochemical components that can store extremely large amounts of electrical energy, reports


Once fabricated, the carbon-based material was attached to an electrode and tested in a three-electrode system to see how well the material could adsorb electrolyte ions (charge) and then release them (discharge).

The material stored more electrical energy than commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes, according to the research paper.

Professor Yi said: “Our carbon-based material has the potential for use as an electrode material in lithium ion batteries, a catalyst-supporting material in fuel cells, and pollutant adsorbents.

“We hope our inventions will ultimately help reduce the environmental burden of cigarette butts while lowering the manufacturing cost of high quality carbon materials.”