Body disposal through alkaline hydrolysis involves placing the intact dead body in a pressurized vessel that is then filled with a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide. It is then heated to a temperature of around 160 degrees Celsius while under an elevated pressure to prevent boiling. The entire process effectively breaks down the body into its chemical component until all is left are the solid bone remains.
A Quick Background on the Origins of Water Cremation
Historians trace the origin of water cremation to Amos Herbert Hobson, who patented a similar process in 1888 as a method of processing animal carcasses into fertilizers. In Europe during the 1990s, particularly during the outbreak of mad cow disease, it was the method used by health and sanitation officials to dispose infected cows. Several medical schools in the Western world have increasingly used this method starting from the mid-2000s to dispose human and animal remains.
Note that the name “resomation” has been attached to body disposal through alkaline hydrolysis because it was first trademarked and used by Resomation Ltd. This company is one of the pioneers to develop further and commercialize water cremation.
The State of Minnesota was the first to legalize this form of body disposal in 2003. Fourteen states in the United States have legalized this method by 2017. Several states and countries are in the process of making it legal and accessible.
The Pros: Advantages and Benefits of Alkaline Hydrolysis
The method is also known as water cremation, aquamation, biocremation, resomation, and flameless cremation. It has been promoted as a better, greener, and more cost-effective alternative to flame cremation and, of course, traditional burial.
Below are the specific advantages and benefits of water cremation:
• One of the key advantages of alkaline hydrolysis is that it is friendlier to the environment than flame cremation. It does not consume fuel and produce emissions.
• The energy consumption is less than body disposal through incineration. Estimates revealed that its energy requirement is only about one-twelve of flame cremation.
• Furthermore, it has some of the advantages of disposal through incineration, especially when compared to traditional burial or entombment.
• Entombment has several disadvantages to include costs attached to funeral service and owning or renting a plot of land, as well as contamination from embalming chemicals.
• Cost-effectiveness is another key advantage of water cremation because it requires less energy than flame cremation and does not require expensive funeral or burial services.
• The method also leaves whiter bone remains. Note that incineration changes the color of the bones. Alkaline hydrolysis also does not require removing medical implants.
• In addition, it leaves a non-toxic liquid solution comprised of peptides, amino acids, and sugar. It can be treated further and disposed without harm to the environment.
The Cons: Disadvantages and Criticisms of Alkaline Hydrolysis
Despite the apparent promises of alkaline hydrolysis as a better alternative to flame cremation and entombment, it remains largely unpopular because of religious and legal resistance, as well as lack of public awareness.
The following are the specific disadvantages and criticisms of water cremation:
• Some people find the green-brown tinted liquid solution byproduct repulsive because it is essentially the liquified organs and tissues of the dead body.
• The idea of using the liquified byproduct as a fertilizer or sending it down to a sewer treatment plant is offensive to others as well.
• Other religious organizations and civic groups remain adamant about the process. They argue that it does not sufficiently show respect for the sacredness of the human body.
• There are no laws in several states in the U.S. and other countries permitting body disposal through alkaline hydrolysis, thus making it both illegal and unavailable.
• Setting up a water cremation facility can still be unappealing to service providers. The price of a single chamber is between USD 90,000 to USD 450,000.
• Its costs are considerably similar to flame cremation because of limited availability. Commercialization would drive down the cost further.