Cigarette butts are one of the most haphazardly discarded items, and an estimated 766,571 metric tons of them end up deposited into the environment each year across the globe. Furthermore, even if the cigarette butts are disposed of properly, they still pose a threat since arsenic and other harmful chemicals leak from them into the earth and waterways. But now a team of researchers from Seoul National University have found a way to recycle used cigarette filters into super-effective energy storage material. They recently published their findings in the journal Nanotechnology.

The scientists found that a process called pyrolysis causes the cellulose acetate fibers, which comprise the filter of a cigarette, to be transformed into a carbon-based material that is perfect for use as a high-performing component of supercapacitors. The pyrolysis process is comprised of a one-step burning technique, which creates tiny holes of varying size in the material thereby increasing its total surface area.

According to one member of the team, it is a must that a high-performing supercapacitor material has a large surface area, and that this can be achieved by incorporating a large number of small pores into the material. Through a combination of different pore sizes the material gains high power densities, another essential property of a supercapacitor, which ensures fast charging and discharging.

The researchers tested this new material by attaching it to electrodes and observing the material’s ability to absorb and then discharge electrolyte ions. Their findings revealed that the material is capable of storing a higher amount of electrical energy than graphene, carbon nanotubes and carbon, which are currently used in today’s supercapacitors.

The researchers believe that coating supercapacitors’ electrodes with this new carbon-based material could prove to be a better energy storage option for electric vehicles, mobile devices and wind turbines. It could also, of course, prove to be a very effective way to recycle harmful cigarette butts.