The molecular processes of urea hydrolysis in relation to ammonia emissions from agriculture

Jens Jakob Sigurdarson, Simon Svane, Henrik Karring

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Ammonia emissions from the agricultural sector give rise to numerous environmental and societal concerns and represent an economic challenge in crop farming, causing a loss of fertilizer nitrogen. Ammonia emissions from agriculture originate from manure slurry (livestock housing, storage, and fertilization of fields) as well as urea-based mineral fertilizers. Consequently, political attention has been given to ammonia volatilization, and regulations of ammonia emissions have been implemented in several countries. The molecular cause of the emission is the enzyme urease, which catalyzes the hydrolysis of urea to ammonia and carbonic acid. Urease is present in many different organisms, encompassing bacteria, fungi, and plants. In agriculture, microorganisms found in animal fecal matter and soil are responsible for urea hydrolysis. One strategy to reduce ammonia emissions is the application of urease inhibitors as additives to urea-based synthetic fertilizers and manure slurry to block the formation of ammonia. However, treatment of the manure slurry with urease inhibitors is associated with increased livestock production costs and has not yet been commercialized. Thus, development of novel, environmentally friendly and cost-effective technologies for ammonia emission mitigation is important. This mini-review describes the challenges associated with the volatilization of ammonia in agriculture and provides an overview of the molecular processes of urea hydrolysis and ammonia emissions. Different technologies and strategies to reduce ammonia emissions are described with a special focus on the use of urease inhibitors. The mechanisms of action and efficiency of the most important urease inhibitors in relation to agriculture will be briefly discussed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalReviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)241-258
Publication statusPublished - 1. Jun 2018


  • Environment
  • Fertilizer
  • Inhibition
  • Livestock
  • Manure slurry
  • Urease

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