Urea, sometimes called carbamide, is a solid organic crystalline compound that is colorless, odorless and highly water soluble. It is formed naturally in mammals, and serves an important role in the liver as the main nitrogen-containing product that breaks down amino acids, proteins and ammonia into waste. The kidneys scrub the urea from the blood and deposit it into the urinary tract, and it then makes up the chief solid material dissolved in urine. Urea can also be synthesized inexpensively from abundantly available inorganic materials. Because urea offers wide-ranging uses in many different industries, it is produced regularly and is available in large quantities for use throughout the world.
Urea was discovered in France in 1773 in evaporated human urine. Over 50 years later, a milestone was reached by the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler, who became the first person to synthesize a byproduct of life from inorganic starting materials. At the time, that was thought to be impossible. Wohler's discovery shocked the scientific world and even caused ripples in the religious community.
Since that time, urea production has multiplied astronomically, keeping up with demand. Urea is an extremely useful compound, used extensively in the chemical industry and has long been synthesized on an industrial scale. Urea processing is accomplished using readily available commodities of ammonia and carbon dioxide.
Urea's most common use by far is as an ingredient in fertilizer, and 90 percent of industrially produced urea is used for this purpose. Since urea is so easily dissolved in water, it creates a perfect and relatively affordable means to deliver valuable nitrogen to plant roots. Methylene-urea fertilizers, which release nitrogen slowly, deliver a year's supply of nitrogen to a plant's roots in a single application. This economical delivery of nitrogen is the reason why urea is used as an ingredient in animal feed as well.
Urea's second most common use is in the production of urea-formaldehyde resin, which provides the bonding agent for structured wood products, such as particleboard and plywood. Along with the many niche uses of urea, such as in soap, paint, glue, instant cold packs, tooth-whitening agents, hair-removal products and flame-retardants to name a few, urea is a major contributor to several industries:
- Pharmaceuticals -- Used in the synthesis of drugs, particularly barbiturates
- Medicine -- A component in several different medical testing procedures, and to produce disinfectants
- Biofuels -- Facilitates fermentation
- Cosmetics -- A base component in lotions, skin moisturizers and shampoos
- Textiles -- Enhances the solubility and moisture-retention of dyes
- Automotive -- The commonly used air pollution-reducing additive called diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) is a mixture of urea and water.
The processing of urea into these products might not occur without a method of loading and unloading from railcars at these facilities. In many cases, loading and unloading cannot be accomplished without an efficient railcar moving system. The video below shows a railcar mover in action with a string of railroad cars.
Railcar movers push or pull individual cars, strings of cars or even unit trains to and from a destination automatically and without locomotive assistance. Heyl & Patterson manufactures train movers that handle such variable loads, with drive choices of rack-and-pinion, chain or wire rope. They are engineered to be powerful, durable, efficient and capable of moving a loaded car or entire train for a precise distance over thousands of times year in and year out. And because trains have grown longer and heavier over the past several years, scalability is built into these machines. A train positioner installed today can handle these periodic increases.