Those Disgusting Cigarette Butts Might Soon Power Your Car

It’s tough being a smoker in the modern world. Not only do people whine at you about your health, you have the unavoidable problem of cigarette butts. Full of pollutants, covered in spit, stomped on: Not even smokers like butts. But in a rich scientific irony, those nasty pieces of litter might be key in building a better eco-conscious car.

Here’s the deal: Supercapacitors are a great thing for certain electrical uses, like cars or defibrillators. They’re light, collect charge quickly… and launch it all back into the circuitry at once. If you’re in a hybrid and step on the brake, it’s supercapacitors that collect the energy from braking and fire it right back into your car to get it going again.

They’re also a pain in the ass to construct; we currently make them by coating foil in carbon. Researchers at Seoul National University, though, found a faster process using those vile butts smokers leave everywhere. How? In a fit of dramatic irony, by burning them:

It has been reported that cellulose acetate can be directly utilized in the production of carbon materials containing a meso-/micropore structure by only a carbonization process. That is, used cigarette filters could be used as a proper carbon source for supercapacitors. Importantly, carbonizing used cigarette filters in a nitrogen-containing atmosphere could provide the nitrogen doping on the carbon structure with the formation of such unique pore structures in a one-step process.

In other words, they threw a bunch of used cigarette filters into a nitrogen rich environment, torched them, and wound up with a supercapacitor due to how the carbon reacts with the cellulose acetate used in most filters. Needless to say, collecting garbage and burning it is a lot cheaper and easier than coating delicate strips of foil with carbon, so interest in this research is intense. And if it holds up, it means that smokers finally have something lord over those tiresome health nuts. “I’m making new parts for your Prius as fast I can, hippie!”