The information that follows is intended to help the public more fully understand what occurs in the cremation process. The steps are detailed and should be carefully considered.
However, please note that this information has been prepared on a general basis. Because of variations in manufacturers and state/provincial and local laws, there may be some differences in process and legal requirements in different jurisdictions; your funeral service provider should be able to explain the specific process.
In 2010, CANA’s Board of Directors voted to expand the association’s definition of cremation to include processes like alkaline hydrolysis. The primary rationale for this was that state and provincial laws were already in place that determined alkaline hydrolysis could be marketed as cremation. From the consumer’s perspective the processes and results are similar.
From an operations perspective, the process – including but not limited to removal, storage, and the chain of identification – is similar to flame-based or “traditional” cremation with 2 exceptions:
- pacemakers and other implants that cannot be exposed to extreme heat and flame do not need to be removed prior to the cremation, except where required by law;
- the remaining bone fragments need to be dried and cooled after the process.
The technical process of reducing the human body to cremated remains is distinctly different.
Alkaline hydrolysis uses water, alkaline chemicals, heat, and sometimes pressure and agitation, to accelerate natural decomposition, leaving bone fragments and a neutral liquid called effluent. The decomposition that occurs in alkaline hydrolysis is the same as that which occurs during burial, just sped up dramatically by the chemicals. The effluent is sterile, and contains salts, sugars, amino acids and peptides. There is no tissue and no DNA left after the process completes. This effluent is discharged with all other wastewater, and is a welcome addition to the water systems.
The graphic below summarizes the process.
Alkaline hydrolysis is sometimes referred to as AH, flameless cremation, water cremation, green cremation, chemical cremation, aquamation, biocremation(TM), or Resomation(TM). States and provinces that have approved the process use one of the following legal terms: alkaline hydrolysis, cremation, chemical disposition, or dissolution.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do people choose alkaline hydrolysis?
There are several reasons people give for choosing alkaline hydrolysis, when available, instead of traditional flame-based cremation.
- It is viewed as a gentler process
- The process is more environmentally friendly. It uses significantly less fuel and has an overall lower carbon footprint than both traditional cremation and burial.
- Some people want cremation but are afraid of fire and see it as a good alternative.
- It is a new alternative to existing forms of disposition.
What happens during the alkaline hydrolysis process?
Alkaline hydrolysis follows the standard cremation process as described on the CANA website by transporting the deceased to the facility, properly storing the body until cremation, and returning cremated remains to the authorized agent at the end. The process itself requires unique equipment and training.
An alkaline hydrolysis machine is comprised of a single chamber which is air- and watertight. The chamber holds approximately one hundred gallons of liquid. The deceased is placed into the single chamber which is then sealed. Sex, body mass and weight of the deceased determine the amount of water and alkaline chemicals combined to form a solution which fills the chamber. The contents may be subjected to heat (199 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit), pressure, and/or agitation (varying with equipment) to ensure proper cremation. This process many take three to sixteen hours depending on equipment and body mass.
What is the end result of the alkaline hydrolysis process?
In short, bone fragments and a sterile liquid. The bone fragments, now called cremated remains or hydrolyzed remains, appear pure white in color. Because the process uses water, the remains are allowed to dry before pulverization. The process results in approximately 32% more cremated remains than flame-based cremation and may require a larger urn.
What is in the water at the end of the alkaline hydrolysis process?
Not your loved one’s remains. Just like flame cremation, fat and tissues are converted to basic organic compounds. In flame cremation these harmless compounds, mainly carbon dioxide and water vapor, are released into the air. In alkaline hydrolysis, the harmless compounds formed include salts and amino acids, and are released with the water. This effluent is far cleaner than most wastewater.
The sterile liquid is released via a drain to the local wastewater treatment authority in accordance with federal, state or provincial, and local laws. The pH of the water is brought up to at least 11 before it is discharged. Because of the contents of the effluent, water treatment authorities generally like having the water come into the system because it helps clean the water as it flows back to the treatment plant. In some cases, the water is diverted and used for fertilizer because of the potassium and sodium content.
How long has alkaline hydrolysis been in use?
Alkaline hydrolysis was developed and patented in 1888 by Amos Herbert Hanson, a farmer who was looking for a way to make fertilizer from animal carcasses. In 1993, the first commercial system was installed at Albany Medical College to dispose of human cadavers. The process continued to be adopted by universities and hospitals with donated body programs over the next ten years. The process was first used in the funeral industry in 2011 by two different funeral homes – one in Ohio and one in Florida.
While states and provinces have been slow to legalize the process for human use, pet crematories are under different rules and have adopted the process widely. The pace of approval for human use is beginning to pick up and there are now fourteen states and two provinces where alkaline hydrolysis is legal, and several more have legislation pending. In those states and provinces where it is legal, there are approximately thirty practitioners.
Where is alkaline hydrolysis legal?
This map is kept updated with regulatory changes.
Manufacturers, practitioners, and regulators are tasked with working together to make alkaline hydrolysis commercially available. However, legalization of the process does not mean it is publically or readily available.
How do I find a provider?
Some states and provinces, despite legalization, lack an operating provider of alkaline hydrolysis. In some cases, the nearest provider may be in a neighboring state, so we recommend searching broadly for businesses classified as “Crematory, Alkaline Hydrolysis” in our Member Directory. In the case that the provider is out of state, you can either work directly with the alkaline hydrolysis facility in the neighboring state, or work with your local funeral home to arrange the transfer of the remains to the alkaline hydrolysis facility and return the cremated remains locally at the end of the process. Either way, it is important that you look into these arrangements in advance, as charges will vary from state to state.
Looking for an equipment manufacturer? Search the Supplier Member Directory for “Alkaline Hydrolysis Equipment Sales & Services” providers.