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a salt or ester of cyanic acid. Cyanate salts, unlike cyanic acid, are very stable compounds: for example, sodium cyanate, NaOCN, has a melting point of 550°C, and potassium cyanate, KOCN, decomposes without melting only at 700°C.
The cyanate salts of the alkali metals are soluble in water and insoluble in alcohol and ether. They are produced by the oxidation of the corresponding cyanides by atmospheric oxygen or by the lead oxides PbO or PbO2. They are used in various syntheses, for example, in the production of semicarbazide. Ammonium cyanate, NH4OCN, which was used by F. Wöhler in the first successful synthesis (1828) of an organic compound (urea) from an inorganic compound, may be obtained in an exchange reaction from silver cyanate and ammonium chloride.
Esters of cyanic acid exist in two isomeric forms: ROCN and RNCO. The cyanate esters (ROCN) do not have practical importance, while isocyanates (RNCO) are used in industry for the production of polyurethanes and herbicides. (SeeISOCYANATES.)