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Urea is an organic compound with the chemical formula (NH2)2CO.

Urea is also known as carbamide, especially in the recommended International Nonproprietary Names (rINN) in use in Europe. For example, the medicinal compound hydroxyurea (old British Approved Name) is now hydroxycarbamide. Other names include carbamide resin, isourea, carbonyl diamide, and carbonyldiamine.


Chemical structure of urea Urea 3D structure of urea
Systematic name Diaminomethanal
Other names carbamide
Molecular formula (NH2)2CO
InChI InChI=1/CH4N2O/c2-1(3)4
Molar mass 60.07 g/mol
Appearance white odourless solid
CAS number [57-13-6]
Density and phase 1.33·10³ kg/m³ [1], solid
Solubility in water 108 g/100 ml (20 °C)
167 g/100 ml (40 °C)
251 g/100 ml (60 °C)
400 g/100 ml (80 °C)
733 g/100 ml (100 °C)
Melting point 132.7 °C (406 K)
Boiling point n.a.
Acidity (pKa) 0.18
Basicity (pKb) 13.82
Chiral rotation [α]D Not chiral
Viscosity  ? cP at ? °C
Critical relative humidity 81% (20°C)
73% (30°C)
Heat of solution in water -57,8 cal/g (endothermic)
Nitrogen content 46.6 %N
Molecular shape trigonal planar
Coordination geometry - - -
Crystal structure tetragonal
Dipole moment 4.56 p/D
Main hazards Toxic
Flash point  ? °C
R/S statement R: ? S: ?
RTECS number  ?
NFPA 704
Supplementary data page
Structure & properties n, εr, etc.
Thermodynamic data Phase behaviour
Solid, liquid, gas
Spectral data UV, IR, NMR, MS
Related compounds
Other anions  ?
Other cations  ?
Related ? biuret
Related compounds  ?
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 26°C, 100 kPa)
Infobox disclaimer and references

It was the first organic compound to be artificially synthesized from inorganic starting materials, thus dispelling the concept of vitalism.


Urea was discovered by Hilaire Rouelle in 1773. It was the first organic compound to be artificially synthesized from inorganic starting materials, in 1828 by Friedrich Wöhler, who prepared it by the reaction of potassium cyanate with ammonium sulfate. Although Woehler was attempting to prepare ammonium cyanate, by forming urea, he inadvertently disproved vitalism, the theory that the chemicals of living organisms are fundamentally different from inanimate matter, thus starting the discipline of organic chemistry.

This discovery prompted Wohler 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."

It is found in mammalian and amphibian urine as well as in some fish. Birds and reptiles excrete uric acid, comprising a different form of nitrogen metabolism that requires less water.


Urea is highly soluble and is therefore a efficient way for the human body to expell excess nitrogen. Due to extensive hydrogen bonding with water (up to six hydrogen bonds may form, two from oxygen atom and one from each hydrogen), it is very soluble and thus is also a good fertiliser.

The urea molecule is planar and retains its full molecular point symmetry. Each carbonyl oxygen atom accepts four N-H-O hydrogen bonds, a very unusual feature for such a bond type. This dense (and energetically quite favourable) hydrogen bond network is probably established at the cost of efficient molecular packing: the structure is quite open, the ribbons forming tunnels with square cross-section.


The individual atoms that make up a urea molecule come from carbon dioxide, water, aspartate and ammonia in a metabolic pathway known as the urea cycle, an anabolic process. This expenditure of energy is necessary because ammonia, a common metabolic waste product, is toxic and must be neutralized. Urea production occurs in the liver and is under the regulatory control of N-acetylglutamate.

The urea cycle was originally known as the Krebs-Henseleit cycle after it was partially deduced by Hans Adolf Krebs and Kurt Henseleit in 1932. Its details were clarified in the 1940s as the roles of citrulline and argininosuccinate as intermediates were understood. In this cycle, amino groups donated by ammonia and L-aspartate are converted to urea, while L-ornithine, citrulline, L-argininosuccinate, and L-arginine act as intermediates.

Most organisms have to deal with the excretion of nitrogen waste originating from protein and amino acid catabolism. In aquatic organisms the most common form of nitrogen waste is ammonia, while land-dwelling organisms convert the toxic ammonia to either urea or uric acid. Generally, birds and saurian reptiles excrete uric acid, while the remaining species, including mammals, excrete urea. Remarkably, tadpoles excrete ammonia, and shift to urea production during metamorphosis. In veterinary medicine, Dalmatian breeds of dogs are noteworthy in that they excrete urea in the form of uric acid in the urine rather than in the urea form. This is due to a defect in one of the genes controlling expression of the conversion enzymes in the urea cycle.

Despite the generalization above, the pathway has been documented not only in mammals and amphibians, but in many other organisms as well, including birds, invertebrates, insects, plants, yeast, fungi, and even microorganisms.

Urea is essentially a waste product, but is vital for forming hypertonic (concentrated) urine. In the distal portions of the kidney collecting duct, urea is reintroduced into the kidney medulla to raise osmolarity. Afterwards, water flowing through the collecting tubule follows back into the body by osmosis through aquaporins.

Urea is dissolved in blood (in humans in a concentration of 2.5 - 7.5 mmol/liter) and excreted by the kidney in the urine.

In addition, a small amount of urea is excreted (along with sodium chloride and water) in human sweat.


Urea can be irritating to skin and eyes. Too high concentrations in the blood can cause damage to organs of the body. Low concentrations of urea such as in urine are not dangerous.

It has been found that urea can cause algal blooms to produce toxins, and urea in runoff from fertilizers may play a role in the increase of toxic blooms.[1]

Repeated or prolonged contact with urea in fertiliser form on the skin may cause dermatitis. The substance also irritates the eyes, the skin and the respiratory tract. The substance decomposes on heating above melting point producing toxic gases. Reacts violently with strong oxidants, nitrites, inorganic chlorides, chlorites and perchlorates causing fire and explosion hazard


Urea is a nitrogen-containing chemical product which is produced on a scale of some 100,000,000 tonnes per year worldwide.

Urea is produced commercially from synthetic ammonia and carbon dioxide. Urea can be produced as prills, granules, flakes, pellets, crystals and solutions.

More than 90% of world production is destined for use as a fertilizer. Urea has the highest nitrogen content of all solid nitrogenous fertilizers in common use (46.4%) It therefore has the lowest transportation costs per unit of nitrogen nutrient.

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.

Solid urea is marketed as prills or granules. The advantage of prills is that in general they can be produced more cheaply than granules which, because of their narrower particle size distribution have an advantage over prills if applied mechanically to the soil. Properties such as impact strength, crushing strength and free-flowing behaviour are particularly important in product handling, storage and bulk transportation.

Commercial production

Urea is produced commercially from two raw materials, ammonia and carbon dioxide. Large quantities of carbon dioxide are produced during the manufacture of ammonia from coal or from hydrocarbons such as natural gas and petroleum derived raw materials. This allows direct synthesis of urea from these raw materials.

The production of urea from ammonia and carbon dioxide takes place in an equilibrium reaction, with incomplete conversion of the reactants. The various urea processes are characterized by the conditions under which urea formation takes place and the way in which unconverted reactants are further processed.

Unconverted reactants can be used for the manufacture of other products, for example ammonium nitrate or sulphate, or they can be recycled for complete conversion to urea in a total-recycle process.

Two principal reactions take place in the formation of urea from ammonia and carbon dioxide. The first reaction is exothermic:

2NH3 + CO2 → H2N-COONH4 (ammonium carbamate)

While the second reaction is endothermic:

H2N-COONH4 → (NH2)2CO + H2O

Both reactions combined are exothermic.

The process is also called the Bosch-Meiser urea process after its discoverers (1922).


Agricultural Use

Urea is used as a nitrogen release fertilizer as it hydrolyses back to 2NH2 and CO2 but its most common impurity (biuret,NH2-CO-NH-CO-NH2) must be present at less than 2% as it impairs plant growth. It is also used in many multi-component solid fertilizer formulations. Its action of nitrogen release is due to the conditions favouring the reagent side of the equilibriums which produce urea.

Urea is usually spread at rates of between 40 and 300 kg/ha, but actual spreading rates will vary according to farm type and region It is better to make several small to medium applications at intervals to minimise leaching losses and increase efficient use of the N applied compared with single heavy applications. During summer, Urea should be spread just before, or during rain to reduce possible losses from volatilisation (process where nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere as ammonium gas). Urea should not be mixed for any length of time with other fertilisers as problems of physical quality may result.

Because of the high N concentration in Urea, it is very important to achieve an even spread. Make sure that the application equipment has been correctly calibrated and is properly used. Do not drill 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. It should be applied into, or be incorporated into the soil. 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 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 nomore than 30 kg urea per 100 L water.

In foliar sprays, urea concentrations of 0.5 – 2.0 % are often used in horticultural crops. As urea sprays may damage crop foliage, specific advice should be sought before use. Low biuret grades of urea should be usedif urea sprays are to be applied regularly or to sensitive horticultural crops.

Storage of Urea Fertiliser

Like most Nitrogen products, Urea absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. Therefore it is should be stored either in closed/sealed bags on pallets, or if stored in bulk, covered with a tarpaulin. As with most solid fertilisers, it should also be stored in a cool, dry, well ventilated area.

Industrial Use

Urea has the ability to form 'loose compounds' with many organic compounds. The organic compounds are held in channels formed by interpenetrating helices comprising of hydrogen bonded urea molecules. This behaviour can be used to separate mixtures and has been used in the production of aviation fuel and lubricating oils. As the helices are interconnected all helices in a crystal must have the same 'handedness'. This is determined when the crystal is nucleated and can thus be forced by seeding. This property has been used to separate racemic mixtures.

Further commercial uses include:

  • Urea is also employed as a stabilizer in nitrocellulose explosives
  • Urea is also used in the Power Industry as a reducing agent.
  • As a component of fertilizer and animal feed, providing a relatively cheap source of fixed nitrogen to promote growth.
  • As a raw material for the manufacture of plastics specifically, urea-formaldehyde resin.
  • As a raw material for the manufacture of various glues (urea-formaldehyde or urea-melamine-formaldehyde). The latter is waterproof and is used for marine plywood.
  • As an alternative to rock salt in the deicing of roadways and runways. It does not promote metal corrosion to the extent that salt does.
  • As an additive ingredient in cigarettes, designed to enhance flavour.
  • Sometimes used as a browning agent in factory-produced pretzels.
  • As an ingredient in some hair conditioners, facial cleansers, bath oils and lotions.
  • It is also used as a reactant in some ready-to-use cold compresses for first-aid use, due to the endothermic reaction it creates when mixed with water.
  • Active ingredient for diesel engine exhaust treatment AdBlue and some other SCR systems.
  • Used, along with salts, as a cloud seeding agent to expedite the condensation of water in clouds, producing precipitation.
  • The ability of urea to form clathrates (also called host-guest complexes, inclusion compounds, and adducts) was used in the past to separate paraffins.
  • As a flame-proofing agent.
  • As a clean burning fuel for motor vehicles and stationary engines.
  • As a NOx-reducing reactant in combustion exhaust streams, especially diesel.
  • As an ingredient in many tooth whitening products.
  • Added to stainless steel alloys used in some Japanese knives to retain sharpness.
  • Used in coal fired power plants to reduce NO emissions.
  • As a cream to soften the skin, especially cracked skin on the bottom of one's feet.

Laboratory use

Urea is a powerful protein denaturant. This property can be exploited to increase the solubility of some proteins. For this application it is used in concentrations up to 10 M. Urea is used to effectively disrupt the noncovalent bonds in proteins. Urea is an ingredient in the synthesis of urea nitrate. Urea nitrate is also a high explosive very similar to ammonium nitrate, however it may even be more powerful because of its complexity. VOD is 11,000 fps to 15,420 fps.

Medical use

Drug use

Urea is used in topical dermatological products to promote rehydration of the skin. If covered by an occlusive dressing, 40% urea preparations may also be used for nonsurgical debridement of nails.

Clinical diagnosis

See blood urea nitrogen ("BUN") for a commonly performed urea test, and marker of renal function.

Other diagnostic use

Isotopically-labeled urea (carbon 14 - radioactive, or carbon 13 - stable isotope) is used in the Urea breath test, which is used to detect the presence of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori, a bacterium) in the stomach and duodenum of humans. The test detects the characteristic enzyme urease, produced by H. pylori, by a reaction that produces ammonia from urea. This increases the pH (reduces acidity) of the stomach environment around the bacteria.

Similar bacteria species to H. pylori can be identified by the same test in animals (apes, dogs, cats - including big cats).

Textile use

Urea in textile laboratories are frequently used both in dyeing and printing as an important auxiliary which provides solubility to the bath and retains some moisture which is required for the dying or printing process. Note that euric acid is NOT approved for internal consumption.


Ureas or carbamides are a class of chemical compounds sharing the same functional group RR'N-CO-NRR' based on a carbonyl group flanked by two organic amine residues. They can be accessed in the laboratory by reaction of phosgene with primary or secondary amines. Example of ureas are the compounds carbamide peroxide, allantoin and Hydantoin. Ureas are closely related to biurets and structurally related to amides, carbamates, diimides, carbodiimides and thiocarbamides.


Urea reacts with alcohols to form urethanes. Urea reacts with malonic esters to make barbituric acids.


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External links

The content of this section is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (local copy). It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Urea" modified August 27, 2007 with previous authors listed in its history.