It’s been around for a number of years, but it’s only now hitting the funeral business in the US. Alkaline hydrolysis involves putting a body in a specialized tank, adding water, lye, and cooking at 1800 C (3500 F) at 60 lbs pressure. The process speeds up normal decomposition and leaves a slurry that can be drained and dumped down the drain, and dried bones that can easily be ground into powder.
Hydrolysis as the name suggests is the process of forcing water molecules between the chemical bonds holding large tissue molecules such as fats, DNA and proteins together. This process breaks the tissue down to its original small molecular building blocks. This is a natural process found in body decomposition after death.
With natural body decomposition you eventually after many months or years end up with ash (bones) and a liquid which is exactly what you get with Alkaline Hydrolysis after two to three hours.
Proponents claim that the result is the same as cremation, but is a much less energy intensive process. Since cremation is also considered a greener process than a full body burial, this goes a step further. While embalming is only required by law in cases of death from some communicable and in other specific cases, it is very common in tradition burials. The fluids used in the process are potentially dangerous to both the embalmers and the environment.
Alkaline hydrolysis has been used in the disposal of animal carcasses and in limited use in the disposition of human remains.
The University of Florida in Gainesville and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have used alkaline hydrolysis to dispose of cadavers since the mid-1990s and 2005, respectively.
Brad Crain, president of BioSafe Engineering, the Brownsburg, Ind., company that makes the steel cylinders, estimated 40 to 50 other facilities use them on human medical waste, animal carcasses or both. The users include veterinary schools, universities, pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. government.
The slurry that is produced is coffee coloured and
has the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell. But proponents say it is sterile and can, in most cases, be safely poured down the drain, provided the operation has the necessary permits.
There is a portable unit that can come right to the barnyard to dispose of carcasses
Although marketed for animals, there is no real reason you couldn’t use it to get rid of bothersome neighbours.
Of course, no mention of death would be complete without a comment from some religious leader.
“We believe this process, which enables a portion of human remains to be flushed down a drain, to be undignified,” said Patrick McGee, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester.
Apparently the definition of dignified is out of sight. Whether the products of decomposition are flushed down the drain or allowed to dissolve into the soil, the end result is the same: recycling through the carbon, nitrogen, water, and other cycles.
The popularity of cremation continues to rise:
In 2006, 34% of deaths used cremation as the final disposition option. This compares to 1% of all deaths a hundred years ago. The rate of cremation in the US continues to climb and is expected to reach 52% in 2025.
As the greening of society increases, we can expect to see other unconventional means of dealing with our loved ones.