ALKALINE HYDROLYSIS - RESOMATION
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)
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.