ScienceShot: Recycle That Butt, Prevent an Oil Spill

They're as ubiquitous as weeds and road dust—and even more disgusting—but those discarded cigarette butts you see all over sidewalks, highways, and sandy beaches could find redemption in preventing corrosion in structural steels. Chinese researchers dissolved ordinary butts in a weak solution of hydrochloric acid. Then they applied the resulting liquid to a variety of steel called N80, which is used in pipelines. In the current issue of Industrial & Engineering Chemical Research, the researchers report that the "cigarette butt water," as they call it, improved the steel's resistance to corrosion by as much as 95%. Their analysis showed nine chemicals—including nicotine—in the butts that contributed to the anticorrosive effect. Though this application wouldn't eliminate all 4.5 trillion butts estimated to hit the ground every year, it could pave the way toward longer-lasting pipelines and a relatively butt-free planet.

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