From the Ashtray to Biodiesel: Researchers Discover New Source of Triacetin

Nov. 28, 2023
Recycling triacetin from cigarette butts could solve major biodiesel hurdle.

Could a pile of spent Marlboros help reduce biodiesel production costs? 

Lithuanian scientists say they have discovered a way to make biodiesel manufacturing more affordable by adding the byproduct of cigarette waste recycling.

The high production cost of biodiesel remains a major barrier to scalability and may actually increase pollution depending on the biomass source. Adding a blender, such as triacetin, can solve both of these issues. But producing triacetin comes with its own sustainability issues.

Researchers from Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania and the Lithuanian Energy Institute think they may have found a solution to this problem by recycling triacetin from cigarette butts.

“Triacetin is used as a plasticiser in cigarettes’ filter, so, naturally, cigarette butts are rich in it,” says Samy Yousef, a chief researcher at Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania.

The research team conducted a series of experiments where they used pyrolysis to thermally decompose cigarette waste. The experiments were carried out in a 200 g reactor at different reaction temperatures (650, 700, and 750°C). The biggest quantity of triacetin, 43%, was synthesized at 750°C.

After a series of pyrolysis at different temperatures experiments, the researchers were able to extract oil (38–39.5 wt%), char (25.7–27.7 wt%) and gas (33–36.4 wt%) from cigarette waste. The char product with a porous structure was very rich in calcium (up to 32 wt%).

“All the products have real applications. Char, which, in our case is porous and very rich in calcium can be used for fertilizers, 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,” says Yousef, who believes that the technology has great upscaling possibilities.

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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