Scientists discovered how to produce the vital agricultural fertilizer

New method uses a catalyst to make synthetic urea.


Urea, with a high nitrogen content, is considered one of agricultural production’s most vital nitrogen fertilizers. It is also a primary raw material for manufacturing industries, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and plastics.

Currently, the industrial synthesis of urea is predominately from ammonia and carbon dioxide under harsh conditions, which requires large energy inputs. It is mainly synthesized through the Haber–Bosch process, which consumes about 2% of the global energy annually.

Urea electrosynthesis under mild conditions has emerged as a promising alternative to replacing the harsh industrial Haber-Bosch process. However, it is limited by sluggish C-N coupling and low selectivity.

Scientists from Queensland University of Technology have found a way to make urea at room temperature without using as much energy as is required in conventional synthetic urea. They suggested a novel method for manufacturing urea by utilizing a graphene-based catalyst in a chemical reaction between nitrogen and carbon monoxide at room temperature and atmospheric pressure.

Dr Junxian Liu, first author of the study said“This approach significantly reduces energy inputs compared to traditional methods, making it a promising advancement in urea production.”

“While this work is in the theoretical stage, we have identified a promising catalyst for sustainable, energy-efficient urea synthesis.”

“We are now collaborating with other research groups to move towards practical application of this new technology.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Junxian Liu, Sean C. Smith, Yuantong Gu, Liangzhi Kou. C─N Coupling Enabled by N─N Bond Breaking for Electrochemical Urea Production. Advanced Functional Materials. DOI: 10.1002/adfm.202305894
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