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Alkaline Hydrolysis


Bio2Gen Alkaline Hydrolysis machine, courtesy of Matthews International 2016

Bio2Gen Alkaline Hydrolysis machine (Matthews International 2016)

Turning a body into ash with fire takes a great deal of energy. Turning a body into sludge with water requires a whole lot less.

Alkaline Hydrolysis, also known as bio-cremation, flameless cremation, or resomation, is the process of pressure cooking a body in 95 percent water and 5 percent lye at 320 degrees, which turns a human body into brown sludge and bones. Proponents say alkaline hydrolysis can eliminate 35 percent of a crematorium’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The process has had trouble catching on in the U.S. It’s currently legal in just 15 states, according to Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America.

In 2011, a bill was introduced in the New York legislature that would have made the process legal. It was opposed by the Catholic Church.

“It is […] essential that the body of a deceased person be treated with respect and reverence,” the New York State Catholic Conference said in a statement opposing the bill. “Processes involving chemical digestion of human remains do not sufficiently respect this dignity.”

The bill fizzled out when the legislation’s sponsor left the assembly to join the Cuomo administration.

In 2011, the first U.S. commercial alkaline hydrolysis machine was installed in a St. Petersburg, Florida funeral home. The machine was developed for commercial use by Scottish company Resomation Ltd. Previously, the University of Florida and the Mayo Clinic had used the process to dispose of medical cadavers. Matthews International, the primary distributor of the technology in the U.S., has delivered six of the units across the country at a cost of less than $300,000 each, according to Steve Schaal, president of the company’s North American branch. — Josh Keefe