There are estimates that gauge more than 4.5 trillion cigarette butts litter the streets and ground across the world on an annual basis.
Aside from the displeasing aesthetics of these butts, there are numerous environmental consequences of this toxic litter, including the leaching of chemicals into our waterways.
A team of researchers led by scientist Jun Zhao discovered a new use for this harmful garbage, one that has great benefits for the steel industry.
Putting Those Butts to Use
Chinese researchers from Xi’an Jiaotong University extracted chemicals from cigarette filters and their residual tobacco. The result? A successful transformation of the cigarettes’ chemicals into an anticorrosion treatment for steel.
After soaking the butts collected off the street in water for 24 hours, the researchers were able to identify 9 compounds—including nicotine—in the liquid using infrared and mass spectrometry. Next, the scientists put the solution through an hydrochloric acid process. The resulting solution was then applied on steel disks.
The researchers subjected the steel disks—N80 grade, typical for use in the oil industry—to harsh conditions that should lead the way for corrosion. The steel remained protected by the cigarette butt solution.
In fact, the researchers were successful in preventing corrosion on 95% of the steel disks on which the cigarette butt solution was applied. Zhao speculates the chemicals in the corrosion inhibiting solution coat the metal in a protective surface.
Healthy Steel, Unhealthy Lungs
At last there is a practical application for the cigarette litter found everywhere—from the streets, to the parks, to our waterways, and even our forests. Due to the extreme toxicity of the cigarette butts, there has been no recycling program previously established.
Another benefit from this study is now the steel industry has a new weapon to use in its expensive struggle against steel corrosion.
This research raises another crucial observation: If cigarette butts soaked in water can produce an anti-corrosion solution strong enough to work for steel, just imagine what those same chemicals do to smokers’ lungs and bodies.
Reference: Cigarette Butts Yield a Chemical Rebuttal [http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/88/i16/8816news3.html]