Green Innovation: Cigarette Butt Recycling Cuts Biodiesel Production Costs

By: | December 3rd, 2023

A recent research project conducted by the Lithuanian Energy Institute (LEI) and Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) introduces an innovative approach to repurpose cigarette waste for the creation of more eco-friendly fuels.

To combat fossil fuel pollution, biodiesel serves as a cleaner alternative. While being biodegradable and non-toxic, its high production cost and potential pollution issues hinder its widespread use. Research proposes using a blender, such as triacetin, to address these concerns. However, the chemical production of triacetin generates waste and toxic residues, posing additional environmental challenges.

Unveiling the Hidden Treasures in Cigarette Waste

“Triacetin is employed as a plasticizer in cigarette filters, making cigarette butts naturally abundant in it,” explains Samy Yousef, a chief researcher at Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania. In collaboration with colleagues from the Lithuanian Energy Institute (LEI), they conducted experiments using pyrolysis to thermally decompose cigarette waste in a 200 g reactor at various temperatures (650, 700, and 750°C). The highest amount of triacetin (43%) was synthesized at a temperature of 750°C.

Globally, smokers purchase approximately 6.5 trillion cigarettes annually, resulting in over 1.1 million tons of cigarette waste each year. Researchers at Kaunas University focus on recycling, targeting cigarette waste due to its unique structure and easy collectibility. Their innovative approach treats cigarette butts as a mixture, eliminating the need for pre-treatment and enhancing the economic feasibility of the recycling process.

Redefining Recycling Processes

In the pyrolysis experiments, cigarette waste resulted in oil (38-39.5 wt%), char (25.7-27.7 wt%), and gas (33-36.4 wt%). The porous char, abundant in calcium, finds applications in fertilizers, wastewater treatment, and energy storage. The produced gas holds potential for energy use, while the oil, notably high in triacetin, can be incorporated into biodiesel to cut costs, according to Yousef.

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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