RESEARCH

Design, reinforced by research, reveals an urgent call to liberate city life from the burden of outmoded practices. A community’s need for sanitary and sensible disposal of corpses is intertwined with the need of survivors to organize suitable rituals and memorialize the deceased.

DeathLab’s body of research includes critical theoretical spatial propositions, data projections, scientific inquiry, and aims to develop ways to reduce the adverse impacts of our living years on the environment.




ALKALINE HYDROLYSIS - RESOMATION

History

Another contemporary alternative to traditional burial and cremation is resomation, a term derived from a Greek word meaning “rebirth of the body.” It is essentially a chemical cremation, involving an accelerated process of alkaline hydrolysis, using lye under heat and pressure, to reduce a corpse to disposable liquid and a small amount of dry bone residue or mineral ash. The resomation process requires about 90kWh of electricity, resulting in one quarter the carbon emissions of cremation, consuming one-eighth the energy, while costing the consumer roughly the same amount as a cremation. (1)

Amos Herbert Hobson patented Alkaline Hydrolysis in the US in 1888, to produce fertilizer from animal carcasses. One hundred years later, two professors at Albany Medical College, Dr. Kaye and Dr. Weber, patented a Modern Tissue Digester, which became the first commercial alkaline hydrolysis system to dispose of human cadavers. In 1993 in Scotland, Dr. David Taylor developed a hot alkali process to effectively destroy cow carcasses infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease). It continues to be the only process known to effectively remove all risk of further contamination. The process has been used to dispose of donated human research cadavers at the University of Florida in Gainesville since 1995 and at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota since 2006. (2)

Alkaline hydrolysis has more recently been approved for commercial use to decompose human cadavers in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Maine,Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon. (3) The Anderson-McQueen funeral home in St. Petersburg, Florida is the first location in America where the process, marketed as “flameless cremation,” is available as a funerary option to the public. Sandy Sullivan, the founder of Resomation Limited, which produces high temperature alkaline hydrolysis vessels for single human disposition, has written, “cremation offered fundamental change in the way we approach human disposition and some serious convincing was required before it was fully accepted...It is again time to reconsider, challenge, analyze and decide where we go next. The environment requires, and indeed demands it.” (4) Expanding on the water-based elemental alternative to fire or earth, Aquamation Industries in Australia, led by a former funeral-home director, has been offering a lower temperature and lower pressure version of alkaline hydrolysis as an option for corpse disposal since 2010. The original facility is located in Eco Memorial Park on Australia’s Gold Coast, and its literature claims “every Funeral Director in Australia can arrange an Aquamation funeral.” Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus, Ohio offered the first Aquamation funeral services in America in 2011 using a 24-inch low-temperature commercial resomator produced by Bio-Response Solutions. After nineteen dispositions utilizing bio-response alkaline hydrolysis, the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors questioned the legality of alkaline hydrolysis disposition under state law. Currently Edwards is not publically offering the service. (5)



Process


1.) The body is placed in a silk bag and loaded into a resomator, which is filled with a solution of potassium hydroxide alkali, a strong base that breaks down the corpse into it’s underlying constituents.



2.) The solution is heated to a high temperature (±160ºC / 350ºF) under high pressure, which prevents boiling.



3.) In less than three hours, the corpse is effectively dissolved into its chemical components and bone fragments.



4.) The outcome is a small quantity of DNA-free greenish-brown liquid containing amino acids, peptides, sugars and salts, with no genetic tracers, and soft, porous white bone-remains comprised of calcium phosphate. The effluent liquid is treated and released. Magnets are used to extract any metals from the bone-ash, after which the remaining white-colored dust may be scattered or placed in a repository.



SECTION FOOTNOTES

1 - "Dissolving Dead Bodies: Gross, But Green." [http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/05/09/deadbodies-lye.html] Alkaline hydrolysis has different names given by four providers: BioSAFE Engineering calls it Water Resolution®, Eco-Green Cremation System calls it Natural Cremation, Matthews International, Inc. calls it Bio-cremation or Resomation®, and CycledLife calls it by its official name, alkaline hydrolysis.
2 - “UK firm: Don’t burn bodies, boil them”, Physorg News, 2007-08-06; October 2007 Newsletter of Worthing Crematorium, operated by Worthing Borough Council in West Sussex, England; Ruth Davis Konigsberg (2009-12-13), “The Ninth Annual Year in Ideas: Resomation”, New York Times Magazine; Bill Briggs (2011-01-18). “When you’re dying for a lower carbon footprint,” MSNBC.com. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
3 - Irene Klotz, "Green Cremation Offers Clean Departure," Discovery News Sept 2011. and ‘Alkaline Hydrolysis: A “Greener” Option?’ Originally published in The Cremationist of North America, Volume 47, No. 3 (2011)
4 – Resomation Ltd ®. "Resomation: An Alternative to Cremation with Environmental Benefits. Company Information brochure. Scotland 2007.
5 - Kantele Franko, "States consider: Is it legal to dissolve bodies?" The Seattle Times, June 2, 2011.


Graphic Contributor: Allison Conley