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What Are the Different Uses of Urea?

The most common use of urea is in fertilizer.
The nitrogen in urea makes it a good option for livestock feeding.
Hair conditioning products often contain urea.
Teeth-whitening products sometimes contain urea.
Some manufacturers add urea to cigarettes as a flavor enhancer.
Urea formaldehyde resin is commonly used as an adhesive in the fiberboard industry.
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  • Written By: Klaus Strasser
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 06 August 2014
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Urea is an organic chemical compound typically found in the urine of mammals. There are many different uses and applications of it, such as in feedstock, glue, fertilizer, commercial products, and resin production. It is widely used in many developing parts of the world and is popular on international trading markets due to its cheap production and transportation costs. It is sometimes also known as carbamide.

This compound that was first observed in urine by the French chemist Hialire Rouele. It was also the first organic compound to be produced synthetically from non-organic materials by the German chemist Friedrich Wohler. This was a significant event in the history of chemistry, as it helped discount the notion that there is some fundamental difference between organic and inorganic matter. In human beings, urea is a very important part of the metabolic system, in which its primary function is as a carrier of waste nitrogen.

The most common application of urea is as a type of fertilizer. Over 90% of the world's production of the substance is done for fertilizer-related products. When used in this way, it usually takes the form of granules, prills, or crystals. These may be manually distributed by farmers or scattered with the aid of farming equipment. It is also often used in fertilizing solutions, since it is highly water soluble.

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As a base product in the manufacture of resins, urea is often combined with formaldehyde. This mixture has many different types of practical applications, such as functioning as an adhesive or being used for the production of plastics. It is also commonly employed as a coating for materials, such as textiles and paper.

Urea is often used in cattle feed or as feedstock for other animals. It is usually considered to be an effective feed, since it contains nitrogen, which can generally aid animal growth. The relatively cheap price of products made with it also makes this feed a popular choice for many farmers.

A lot of commercial products also incorporate this substance. Hair conditioners or tooth-whitening products often use it. Facial cleaners may also contain it, since it can help in hydrating the skin. Some cigarette brands also add it as a flavor enhancer. It can also be found in many cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, and dish soaps. It can also be used in an eco-friendly way to reduce fuel emissions from power plants and diesel engines.

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Mor
Post 5

@Iluviaporos - It actually made urine into a bankable commodity for a while, because the dyers were willing to pay for it.

It's the same as when guano was one of the best sources of fertilizer and people went crazy for that and paid massive amounts for it. I believe it has uric acid rather than urea though.

What I've always wanted to know is how the people originally came up with this solution. It doesn't seem like a very intuitive thing to me, to soak your clothes in urine!

lluviaporos
Post 4

@pastanaga - It's also not all that good for plants if you put it on directly. That's why people get annoyed if dogs pee on the front lawn. The urea in their urine can actually kill off the grass.

Although people have been using the urea in urine for longer than they realized it was there. They used to use it as a setting agent for clothes that were recently dyed. The people who dyed clothes would go around and collect the urine and wash the cloth in it and that would make the color set.

pastanaga
Post 3

@anon135076 - It might be because urea is more likely to pollute than grit or salt. It's generally good for plants and things in small doses but if you add too much of it to waterways it can cause an algae bloom which can kill off everything else in the water when the algae use up all the oxygen.

It can also be pretty bad for humans in concentrated doses and will cause irritation to the skin and other problems. That's why you're supposed to use a mask and gloves when you're using urea for fertilizer.

anon135076
Post 1

when I was in the RAF, we had to do a duty called snow and ice. We spread urea on roads and runways/taxiways to keep them clear, much the same as local councils do with gritters in winter. far superior to grit in my experience. If it's so cheap to produce why doesn't the UK government not use this if there is such a shortage of salt/grit?

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