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Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri, a Mechanical engineer and an MBA -Marketing from ICFAI (Institute of Chartered Financial Accountants), Mumbai, is a result oriented and a business focused…

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Can Cigarettes Beat Tesla At The Energy Storage Game?

A scientific breakthrough in a laboratory in Seoul, South Korea could soon give Tesla, and other companies, a run for their money in the energy storage game. Scientists have developed a new technique to store energy from the unlikeliest of sources – a cigarette butt.

Cigarette filters contain certain fibers that are used to trap certain hazardous particles. Using a process called “pyrolysis,” the scientists modified the cellulose acetate fibers in the cigarette butts. The new material consists of carbon, which can be used to store energy. The high-performance material can be applied to energy storage for electric vehicles, wind turbines, computers and handheld devices.

Several scientists in South Korea demonstrated the concept in a study published in the journal Nanotechnology last year. Korean scientists have found that the new material from cigarette butts exceeds the potential storage capacity of currently used materials such as: grapheme, nanotube capacitators and carbon. Related: The Great Divide Between EIA And OPEC Data

Professor Jongheop Yi of Seoul National University was quoted as saying, “A high performing supercapacitor material should have a large surface area, which can be achieved by incorporating a large number of small pores into the material. A combination of different pore sizes ensures that the material has high power densities, which is an essential property in a super capacitor."

Supercapacitor Vs Battery

Supercapacitors are quite different from conventional batteries as they can be charged quickly without the need for any chemical reactions. Unlike batteries, which have a limited charging cycle, supercapacitors can last for millions of charge/discharge cycles without losing their energy storage capability. However, the main drawback of a supercapacitor is its bulky size and low energy storage capacity. Supercapacitors need to be much larger to hold the same energy as battery. Also, supercapacitors are much more expensive than batteries.

But that is what makes the South Korean study exciting: cigarette butts are neither expensive nor difficult to find. Around 1.6 billion pounds of cigarette butts wind up as trash every year, creating a serious environmental, health and economic burden. Professor Yi adds further, “Numerous countries are developing strict regulations to avoid the trillions of toxic and non-biodegradable used cigarette filters that are disposed of into the environment each year. Our method is just one way of achieving it.“ Related: Top 4 Oil Companies For Dividend Investors

However, is it still too early to compare supercapacitors with the current commercially available options, given that there are still lots of advancements needed to improve their performance?

Is this development commercially feasible?

Scientists around the world have been working on supercapacitors with some exciting advancements. For example, a team of researchers have created a supercapacitor film that could potentially eliminate the need for batteries within the next five years. The newly developed supercapacitor film is strong, exceedingly thin and is able to release a large amount of energy in a short amount of time.

Given these characteristics, the supercapacitor film could be fixed in multiple areas of the vehicle, thereby making the vehicle much lighter. The cigarette butt study potentially solves two of the most vexing problems for energy storage: size and cost. That offers a possible path forward for energy storage.

Tesla’s electric cars currently use heavy batteries that limit the car range. If Tesla, or any other EV, uses a combination of battery and supercapacitor (where the supercapacitor is used only for acceleration), it might be possible to reduce the car weight and improve its operating efficiency. Related: Oil Markets Can’t Ignore The Fundamentals Forever

What is it worth?

According to Lux Research, the energy storage market (driven by electronics and plug- in vehicles) will grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 8% to $50 billion by 2020 with dramatic shifts coming from the transportation industry. The newly developed supercapacitor material can grab at least 20 % of this market share if it reaches full commercial development over the next five years.

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The report suggests that electric vehicles (EVs) will constitute the biggest market for energy storage in the near future. With their unique properties, supercapacitors (often called ultra capacitors) from Maxwell Technologies are currently used in Chinese hybrid buses with more than 10,000 supercapacitor-outfitted units on the road. However, the supercapacitors are only used to accelerate the bus after which the internal combustion engine takes over. This arrangement has substantially reduced the smoke generated from these buses; the intended goal of incorporating the technology.

With ongoing improvements in supercapacitor technology, supercapacitors could soon power EVs without any additional assistance. If this were to happen, cigarette-based superconductor technology could beat Tesla and other front-runners in the energy storage game. The South Korea study may have solved several critical problems with energy storage, but raised another. With 9 trillion filtered cigarettes expected to be consumed worldwide by 2025, the $50 billion dollar question is: How does one collect all these cigarette butts?

By Gaurav Agnihotri of Oilprice.com

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  • John Scior on May 29 2015 said:
    "With 9 trillion filtered cigarettes expected to be consumed worldwide by 2025, the $50 billion dollar question is: How does one collect all these cigarette butts?"----- very carefully, the journey of 9 trillion cigarette butts begins with one small collection :)
  • Roy on June 08 2015 said:
    Gaurav - incentivize the collection of cigarette butts by drawing parallels to other nuisance garbage - metal and glass containers. A whole army of collectors will spring up when their is profit in the game for them. The little butt collection containers already exist, we also would need more of them, in the right places. This is not a difficult problem to solve.

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