Although most of this article concerns organic carbamates, the inorganic salt ammonium carbamate is produced on a large scale as an intermediate in the production of the commodity chemical urea from ammonia and carbon dioxide.
Carbamates in biochemistry
N-terminal amino groups of valine residues in the α- and β-chains of deoxyhemoglobin exist as carbamates. They help to stabilise the protein, when it becomes deoxyhemoglobin and increases the likelihood of the release of remaining oxygen molecules bound to the protein. This stabilizing effect should not be confused with the Bohr Effect (an indirect effect caused by carbon dioxide).
The ε-amino groups of the lysine residues in urease and phosphotriesterase also feature carbamate. The carbamate derived from aminoimidazole is an intermediate in the biosynthesis of inosine. Carbamoyl phosphate is generated from carboxyphosphate rather than CO2.
CO2 capture by ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase
Perhaps the most important carbamate is the one involved in the capture of CO2 by plants since this process is necessary for their growth. The enzyme ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase fixes a molecule of carbon dioxide as a carbamate at the start of the Calvin cycle. At the active site of the enzyme, a Mg2+ ion is bound to glutamate and aspartate residues as well as a lysine carbamate. The carbamate is formed when an uncharged lysine side-chain near the ion reacts with a carbon dioxide molecule from the air (not the substrate carbon dioxide molecule), which then renders it charged, and, therefore, able to bind the Mg2+ ion.
Polyurethanes contain multiple carbamate groups as part of their structure. The "urethane" in the name "polyurethane" refers to these carbamate groups; the term "urethane links" describe how carbamates polymerize. In contrast, the substance commonly called "urethane," ethyl carbamate, is neither a component of polyurethanes, nor is it used in their manufacture.
Polyurethane polymers have a wide range of properties and are commercially available as foams, elastomers, and solids. Typically, polyurethane polymers are made by combining diisocyanates, e.g. toluene diisocyanate, and diols, where the carbamate groups are formed by reaction of the alcohols with the isocyanates:
Urethane (ethyl carbamate) was once produced commercially in the United States as an antineoplastic agent and for other medicinal purposes. It was found to be toxic and largely ineffective. It is occasionally used as a veterinary medicine.
There are two oxygen atoms in a carbamate (1), ROC(=O)NR2, and either or both of them can be conceptually replaced by sulfur. Analogues of carbamates with only one of the oxygens replaced by sulfur are called thiocarbamates (2 and 3). Carbamates with both oxygens replaced by sulfur are called dithiocarbamates (4), RSC(=S)NR2.
^Bartoschek, S.; Vorholt, J. A.; Thauer, R. K.; Geierstanger, B. H. and Griesinger, C., "N-Carboxymethanofuran (carbamate) formation from methanofuran and CO2 in methanogenic archaea : Thermodynamics and kinetics of the spontaneous reaction", Eur. J. Biochem., 2001, 267, 3130-3138. doi:10.1046/j.1432-1327.2000.01331.x
^Robert L. Metcalf “Insect Control” in Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry” Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2002. doi:10.1002/14356007.a14_263