Why The World Is Running Out Of Urea

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Have you ever heard of urea?

It seems to go pretty under the radar despite being the most used crop fertiliser and the chemical that helps run most diesel trucks.

It’s also a compound found in urine.

Without urea, Australia’s trucks would be forced off the roads, global supply chains would halt, and food prices would soar.

And now a shortage of it has led to worries that might already be happening.

So What Exactly Is Urea?

Urea is a naturally occurring chemical compound that’s produced by our bodies.

It’s also known as carbamide.

Essentially, urea is the waste produced when your body metabolises protein, and it’s eventually found in urine.

But urea can also be made through a process that we’ve been using for centuries, where gas is turned into ammonia, which is then heated and synthesised into urea.

What Urea Is Used For

Today, urea is commonly used to make fertiliser, and its global production equates to about 220 million tonnes per year.

But urea is also used to reduce air pollution from diesel engines in trucks, cars, and buses.

Diesel engines emit high concentrations of nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas that – like other greenhouse gases – contributes to a warming atmosphere.

It’s also the gas that’s used in some anaesthetics.

But a solution of urea mixed with water, can actually stop nitrous oxide from being emitted out of diesel engines.

If you’ve ever seen AdBlue – that blue liquid you can buy in petrol stations – urea is its key ingredient.

AdBlue is the anti-pollutant that’s required in all modern diesel engines and, without it, modern trucks would just stop working.

In India the major use for urea is fertilising crops, and in South Korea it’s a mandatory chemical that’s found in all commercial transport trucks.

Here in Australia, it’s all of those things.

The Piss Is Drying Up

But South Korea’s trucks have already stopped working, when truckies were met with huge urea shortages last month.

Experts are pointing the finger at rising fuel and fertiliser prices in China.

COVID has been a big reason behind the jacked up prices around the world.

But in China, electricity shortages have rippled across the country this year.

High demands for Chinese goods meant that Chinese factories needed more power, which China struggled to keep up with.

And that meant China had to literally ration their electricity, forcing fertiliser factories to halt production.

To try and slow the soaring price growth and save enough for local farmers, China has totally banned exports of urea.

Which is a big deal to the global supply change of this golden stuff, because China is the world’s biggest exporter of urea.

Between January and September this year, nearly 97% of South Korea’s urea imports came from China.

More than half of China’s urea exports this year have gone to India, and 80% of Australia’s urea supplies have also come from China.

The Impacts

Basically, all the disruptions have had a ripple effect, and the impacts have already been far-reaching.

In November, South Korea airlifted 27,000 litres of urea solution from Australia.

And in Europe, AdBlue is now pretty much restricted.

The ABC reported that some major Australian truck companies have said that they will run out of urea supplies within weeks.

And if that happens, Australia’s economy could take a big hit.