QUEENSLAND University of Technology scientists have discovered how to produce urea at room temperature without the large energy input of the traditional production process of synthetic fertiliser.
Junxian Liu, first author on the study, with co-researchers Yuantong Gu and Liangzhi Kou from the School of Mechanical, Medical and Process Engineering, published their findings in the journal, Advanced Functional Materials.
Dr Liu said urea was one of the most vital nitrogen fertilisers and supported about 27 percent of the world’s population’s crops.
“Urea is also a basic raw material for manufacturing industries including pharmaceuticals, cosmetic and plastic,” Dr Liu said.
“While urea does occur naturally in the environment it is not sufficient to meet the global demand due to population growth and the expansion of agriculture and these various industries.
“The industrial production of synthetic urea began in the early 20th century and the traditional process involves the reaction of ammonia and carbon dioxide at very high temperatures and high pressure.”
Dr Liu said the team proposed a new solution for synthesizing urea using a chemical reaction between nitrogen and carbon monoxide with a graphene-based catalyst under room temperature and atmospheric pressure conditions.
“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.”
The study, CN Coupling Enabled by NN Bond Breaking for Electrochemical Urea Production, was published in Advanced Functional Materials.