Scientists around the world are exploring new, innovative ways to reduce our dependence on toxic, non-renewable sources of energy while focusing on discovering viable, renewable and eco-friendly alternatives.

One such clean source of fuel is biodiesel, which is made from biological elements such as edible and non-edible oils, animal fats and waste restaurant grease. Biodiesel is renewable as well as biodegradable, making it a much cleaner, eco-friendlier source of energy.

However, the high cost of biodiesel remains the biggest hurdle in the way to its wider acceptance. The solution to this problem has now been found: cigarette butts.

How cigarette butts can help lower biodiesel cost

Previous studies have shown that adding additives like triglyceride triacetin leads to increased efficiency of biodiesel in the form of decreased air pollution and enhanced combustibility.

However producing triacetin is highly hazardous to the environment, which requires the use of a lot of chemicals and generates excessive toxic waste.

Scientists from Kaunus University of Technology (KTU), Lithuania, in collaboration with the Lithuanian Energy Institute, have developed a way to produce triacetin using cigarette butts, according to research published last month in the Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis.

“In our research group, we are working on the topics of recycling and waste management, therefore we are always looking for the waste, which is present in huge amounts and has a unique structure,” said Samy Yousef, lead and corresponding author of the study.

“Cigarettes are made of three components – tobacco, paper and a filter made of cellulose acetate fibers – and are a good source of raw materials and energy. Plus, cigarette butts are easy to collect as there are many systems and companies for collecting this waste in place,” he added.

How was triacetin produced from cigarette butts?

Scientists used pyrolysis to thermally decompose the butts at temperatures of 650, 700 and 750°C.

After conducting several experiments, the experts realised that the maximum amount of triacetin compound (43 per cent) was extracted at 750°C, with yields estimated at 38 wt per cent oil, 25.7 wt per cent char, and 36.4 wt per cent gas.

“All the products have real applications,” Yousef said.

“Char, which, in our case, is porous and very rich in calcium, can be used for fertilisers or wastewater treatment as an absorbent and energy storage. Gas can be used for energy purposes. Last but not least is oil, rich in triacetin, which can be used as an additive to biodiesel to reduce the cost,” he added.

Extracted in full from: