Cigarettes aren’t done causing damage when smokers put them out. But if the account of abandoned butts worldwide is 4.5 trillion or 5.6 trillion, it denotes an immense amount of nicotine and heavy metals deposited in the environment. But what if the contents of the ashtray had a useful application? Chinese researchers tested the chemicals in cigarette butts for their effects on a kind of steel used in oil and gas pipelines.
The results of their investigation were pretty dramatic. In a near-boiling solution of 10 and 15 percent hydrochloric acid (HCl; same stuff as stomach acid), the cigarette-derived cocktail reduce corrosion by between 90 and 94 percent.
Firstly, they had to soak cigarette butts they found on the side of the road in distilled water, with five butts to 100 milliliters (about 3.4 ounces) of water. That extract was then added to the HCL solution. If just five percent of the resulting solution consisted of that cigarette extract, those dramatic process reductions began to appear.
If the researchers upped the strength of the acid, they needed to also increase the amount of added cigarette extract. For example, with a 20 percent hydrochloric acid solution, the researchers needed to increase the butt leachate to 10 percent of the liquid for to keep damage to the steel low: at less than 12 percent of the corrosion seen with the invariable acid solution.
At the end of investigation they observed that nine of the cigarette chemicals appeared to offer protective services for iron, very interestingly that nicotine was the most important from all nine.
So, don’t keep smoking for steel’s sake: The trillions of butts across the world represent more than enough for this use. But if smokers want to put their butts to good use, they can in fact recycle them.