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  • Carly Schorman

What is Alkaline Hydrolysis or Water Cremation?

Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as aquamation, resomation, or water cremation, is an alternative method of final disposition for human remains. Unlike traditional cremation, which uses high heat to reduce the body to bone fragments, alkaline hydrolysis uses a water-based process to accelerate decomposition.

Here's how the alkaline hydrolysis process works:

1. Preparation: The body is placed inside a stainless steel chamber or vessel, along with a solution of water and alkali, typically potassium hydroxide (KOH) or sodium hydroxide (NaOH).

2. Alkaline Hydrolysis: The chamber is sealed, and heat and pressure are applied to the solution, typically at temperatures around 160-180 degrees Celsius (320-356 degrees Fahrenheit). The combination of heat, pressure, and alkalinity accelerates the natural process of decomposition, breaking down organic matter into its chemical components.

3. Hydrolysis Stage: During this stage, the body undergoes hydrolysis, a chemical reaction in which water molecules break down the bonds between organic molecules, such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. This process results in the breakdown of soft tissues, leaving behind only bone fragments and a sterile liquid solution.

4. Neutralization and Filtration: After the hydrolysis stage is complete, the remaining liquid solution is drained from the chamber. It is then neutralized to adjust the pH level, typically to a level close to that of water. The resulting solution is environmentally safe and can be discharged into municipal wastewater systems or used for irrigation.

5. Bone Fragment Recovery: The remaining bone fragments, which are softened by the hydrolysis process, are removed from the chamber. They are typically processed further to reduce them to a finer consistency, similar to the ash produced in traditional cremation.

6. Final Disposition: The bone fragments are returned to the family for memorialization or placed in an urn, similar to traditional cremation. Some families may choose to scatter the remains or bury them in a cemetery.

Alkaline hydrolysis is often promoted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional cremation, as it consumes less energy and does not produce emissions of greenhouse gases or mercury, which can occur with cremation. Additionally, the liquid byproduct of alkaline hydrolysis is sterile and does not pose a risk to the environment.

While alkaline hydrolysis is legal in several states and countries, its availability may be limited compared to traditional cremation or burial. Regulations and acceptance of this method can vary depending on local laws and cultural norms.

Homecoming's Columbarium Systems can accommodate cremains from both flame cremation and water cremation. One of our goals is to increase environmentally-sustainable funeral options and we encourage our clients to explore the option of water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis when available in their area.

At the time of publishing this article, 28 states permit water cremation.

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