Liquid gold

Urea is a very interesting chemical, widely used in moisturizers and in products ranging from dishwashing detergent (it increases the solubility of protein molecules) to toothpaste (it has whitening properties) chewing gum (not sure what it does there) and even barbiturates (combined with malic acid). It is produced in our liver as a way of eliminating ammonia, then it is filtered out through the kidneys into our pee, or liquid gold as some people call it. The chemical was discovered back in 1773 by Hillaire Rouelle when he observed white crystals left over after all the liquid in urine had evaporated. If he could do it, surely I could too! For some reason I liked the idea of making hand and face cream with my own waste product. This experiment had to remain secret of course, because I was aware that most members of my family would not share my enthusiasm. I very discreetly started to boil down about a half a cup of pee in one of our enameled pots. Unfortunately, although the fresh urine had no odor, the fumes from the evaporation did. When urea breaks down, I soon discovered, it releases toxic fumes. The apartment became unbreathable and there was no way to hide what I’d done. No pretty white crystals for me, only a brownish, malodorous goo that my dog wanted to lick.

In our entire life together, I had never seen my husband so angry. He did not say a word. He just looked at the pot, looked at me, his face turned gray and then he stalked away without saying a word or even slamming the front door. He was gone for several hours. As I nervously flapped towels around to circulate the air, I thought I might have taken the wrong approach. Urea is now produced commercially by combining ammonia with carbon dioxide.

“Would it work if I filled a bottle with ammonia and carbonated it with my seltzer maker?” I wondered. In the interest of my marriage, I decided not to try. Please don’t try either… but if you decide to experiment despite this warning, do let me know the results because I am curious!


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