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About Fertilizer

Urea

01-13-2011

Urea or carbamide is an organic compound with the chemical formula (NH2)2CO. The molecule has two amine (-NH2) groups joined by a carbonyl (C=O) functional group.

Urea serves an important role in the metabolism of nitrogen-containing compounds by animals and is the main nitrogen-containing substance in the urine of mammals. It is solid, colourless, and odorless (although the ammonia which it gives off in the presence of water, including water vapor in the air, has a strong odor). It is highly soluble in water and non-toxic. Dissolved in water it is neither acidic nor alkaline. The body uses it in many processes, most notably in the kidneys as a concentrated salt. Urea is widely used in fertilizers as a convenient source of nitrogen. Urea is also an important raw material for the chemical industry. The synthesis of this organic compound by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828 from an inorganic precursor was an important milestone in the development of organic chemistry, as it showed for the first time that a molecule found in living organisms could be synthesized in the lab without biological starting materials.

The terms urea and carbamide are also used for a class of chemical compounds sharing the same functional group RR'N-CO-NRR', namely a carbonyl group attached to two organic amine residues. Example include carbamide peroxide, allantoin, and hydantoin. Ureas are closely related to biurets and related in structure to amides, carbamates, diimides, carbodiimides, and thiocarbamides.

History

Urea was first discovered in urine in 1773 by the French chemist Hilaire Rouelle. In 1828, the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler obtained urea by treating silver isocyanate with ammonium chloride.[2]

AgNCO + NH4Cl (NH2)2CO + AgCl

This was the first time an organic compound was artificially synthesized from inorganic starting materials, without the involvement of living organisms. The results of this experiment implicitly discredited vitalism: the theory that the chemicals of living organisms are fundamentally different from inanimate matter. This insight was important for the development of organic chemistry. His discovery prompted Wöhler to write triumphantly to Berzelius: "I must tell you that I can make urea without the use of kidneys, either man or dog. Ammonium cyanate is urea." For this discovery, Wöhler is considered by many the father of organic chemistry.

Uses

[edit] Agriculture

More than 90% of world production of urea is destined for use as a nitrogen-release fertilizer. Urea has the highest nitrogen content of all solid nitrogenous fertilizers in common use (Therefore, it has the lowest transportation costs per unit of nitrogen nutrient.

Many soil bacteria possess the enzyme, urease, which catalyzes the conversion of the urea molecule to two ammonia molecules and one carbon dioxide molecule, thus urea fertilizers are very rapidly transformed to the ammonium form in soils. Among soil bacteria known to carry urease, some ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB), such as species of Nitrosomonas are also able to assimilate the carbon dioxide released by the reaction to make biomass via the Calvin Cycle, and harvest energy by oxidizing ammonia (the other product of urease) to nitrite, a process termed nitrification[5]. Nitrite-oxidizing bacteria, especially, Nitrobacter, oxidize nitrite to nitrate, which is extremely mobile in soils and is a major cause of water pollution from agriculture. Ammonia and nitrate are readily absorbed by plants, and are the dominant sources of nitrogen for plant growth. Urea is also used in many multi-component solid fertilizer formulations. Urea is highly soluble in water and is, therefore, also very suitable for use in fertilizer solutions (in combination with ammonium nitrate: UAN), e.g., in 'foliar feed' fertilizers. For fertilizer use, granules are preferred over prills because of their narrower particle size distribution which is an advantage for mechanical application.

The most common impurity of synthetic urea is biuret, which impairs plant growth.

Urea is usually spread at rates of between 40 and 300 kg/ha but rates vary. Smaller applications incur lower losses due to leaching. During summer, urea is often spread just before, or during rain to minimize losses from volatilization (process wherein nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere as ammonia gas). Urea is not compatible with other fertilizers.

Because of the high nitrogen concentration in urea, it is very important to achieve an even spread. The application equipment must be correctly calibrated and properly used. Drilling must not occur on contact with or close to seed, due to the risk of germination damage. Urea dissolves in water for application as a spray or through irrigation systems.

In grain and cotton crops, urea is often applied at the time of the last cultivation before planting. In high rainfall areas and on sandy soils (where nitrogen can be lost through leaching) and where good in-season rainfall is expected, urea can be side- or top-dressed during the growing season. Top-dressing is also popular on pasture and forage crops. In cultivating sugarcane, urea is side-dressed after planting, and applied to each ratoon crop.

In irrigated crops, urea can be applied dry to the soil, or dissolved and applied through the irrigation water. Urea will dissolve in its own weight in water, but it becomes increasingly difficult to dissolve as the concentration increases. Dissolving urea in water is endothermic, causing the temperature of the solution to fall when urea dissolves.

As a practical guide, when preparing urea solutions for fertigation (injection into irrigation lines), dissolve no more than 30 kg urea per 100 L water.

In foliar sprays, urea concentrations of 0.5% C 2.0% are often used in horticultural crops. Low-biuret grades of urea are often indicated.

Urea absorbs moisture from the atmosphere and therefore is typically stored either in closed/sealed bags on pallets, or, if stored in bulk, under cover with a tarpaulin. As with most solid fertilizers, storage in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area is recommended.

[edit] Chemical industry

Urea is a raw material for the manufacture of many important chemical compounds, such as

Various plastics, especially the urea-formaldehyde resins.

Various adhesives, such as urea-formaldehyde or the urea-melamine-formaldehyde used in marine plywood.

Potassium cyanate, another industrial feedstock.

Urea nitrate, an explosive.

[edit] Automobile systems

Urea is used in SNCR and SCR reactions to reduce the NOx pollutants in exhaust gases from combustion from diesel, dual fuel, and lean-burn natural gas engines. The BlueTec system, for example, injects water-based urea solution into the exhaust system. The ammonia produced by the hydrolysis of the urea reacts with the nitrogen oxide emissions and is converted into nitrogen and water within the catalytic converter.