17 October 2014

Cigarette-Filter Capacitors

Welcome back. How can you not love research? A team of investigators at Seoul National University, South Korea, discovered that used cigarette filters--yes, cigarette butts--can provide the material needed for the next supercapacitors. If it all pans out, the research may produce an improved energy storage device and reduce litter in one fell swoop.

Filters to Supercapacitors
Cigarette filters before and
after the cigarette is smoked.
(photo from multiple websites)

Cigarette filters are composed primarily of cellulose acetate fibers. The researchers came up with a one-step process for transforming used filters into a porous carbon material whose structure includes pores smaller than 2 nanometers (“micropores”) as well as pores between 2 and 50 nanometers (“mesopores”).

This unique combination of pores allows increased permeation and contact by the electrolyte ions, and thus opens the way for extended rate capabilities--higher maximum charge and discharge—that’s required for a supercapacitor.

Their one-step conversion process prepared nitrogen-doped, meso-/microporous hybrid carbon material through heat treatment of used filters under a nitrogen atmosphere. The transformed cigarette filter material stored more power, charged quicker and lasted longer than presently available energy storage alternatives (carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes).

Wrap Up

Should I be giving the tobacco industry credit for cigarette filters? I’ve disparaged the industry in the past (Research Sponsor Bias). That’s ok. Its advertising might have dissuaded my concerns when I started smoking in college, even though it’s my fault that I continued smoking long after the findings of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee Report on Smoking and Health were announced in 1964.

Cigarette butts--new energy
 storage devices? (photo
 from multiple websites)
Well, I might consider a kudo for filters if the trillions of used and discarded cigarette filters weren’t non-biodegradable, toxic and one of the most common forms of litter that’s estimated to weigh a cumulative 845,000 tons. So instead, let’s all applaud the latest research and hope something comes of it.

Thanks for stopping by.


Research paper in the journal Nanotechnology:
Articles on the research on Reuters and IEEE Spectrum websites:
Background on supercapacitors:
Surgeon General’s Reports on Smoking and Health:

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