We don't deal all that much with death on Ecogeek, but sometimes something comes along that captures our attention, interest and - of course - our morbid fascination. A way of processing corpses called resomation is one of those things. Veterinarians have been using a similar process for years now, but us humans are now finally getting in on the action.
Within a tank called a resomator, the body is immersed in a 1:21 solution of potash lye and water. Gas-powered steam generators build up pressure within the tank as the temperature rises up to around 170 degrees celcius. Thanks to the pressure (and despite what the general news media would have you think) there is no boiling, only a chemical reaction that completely liquefies everything but the bone ash in our bodies. When the tank is opened, only the bone ash and any implants or prosthetics the person had remain.
Sounds pretty gruesome, eh? It kind of reminds me of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know the one. That thing gave me nightmares as a kid. Why even do it, you may ask? Well, this is where our interest in this technology comes in. Through talks with Sandy Sullivan, the founder and MD of Resomation Ltd, I've found out that an average cycle in this tank of three hours will consume around 90 kWh, while a cremation will consume 250 kWh. According to Mr Sullivan, the total carbon footprint of a resomation is 18 times less than that of a cremation. Additionally, resomation is a 100% mercury-free process, something neither regular burial nor cremation can boast.
When the body has been fully liquefied, it has been separated into two main parts. The first is a bio-fluid that is basically a collection of all our building blocks: Salts, sugars, peptides, and amino acids. The nutrients in this liquid are still entirely intact and can be returned to the soil to help our plants grow. The second is basically a "shadow" of your bones called bone ash, pure calcium phosphate. This can be used in horticulture, ceramics, and even as a raising agent! In other words, getting resomated allows you to fully return your body to the Earth without worrying about adding a bunch of unwanted stuff to the soil at the same time.
Like I said, any implants or prosthetics the person may have had are also left behind, and are in fact in pristine condition. With further sterilisation and repackaging, expensive prosthetics can be put back into use. While what to do with these "leftovers" is still an open question, the folk at Resomation Ltd have considered donating them to third-world countries where such prosthetics would otherwise be completely unattainable.
So far, the process is only available in the United States, where more than 2,000 resomations have been performed so far, but the Glasgow-based company is only a year old, and Sullivan tells me that they are close to having the process specified as legal in the United Kingdom (bureaucracy at work!). Many local authorities in the UK are having trouble taking care of their dead, what with the FBCA's regulations on mercury emissions. Additionally, several green groups are championing this tech all around the world.
Don't worry, you can still have a dignified ceremony that doesn't differ much from cremation. The body is placed in a quite ordinary coffin that is lined with a silk bag that seals to become an enclosed silk coffin within the resomator. After the cycle, the soft bone ash can easily be powdered and put in an urn like you would after a cremation, with the added bonus that every single bit of ash is the body of the departed, not a mixture of whatever was in the furnace with the body. I can even think of a few additions to the lowering of the ashes that would make the ceremony all the more meaningful, like fertilising the earth that surrounds our dearly departed's ashes with a vial containing their own bodily remains. One life gone, new life welcomed.
Myself, I've always had different plans for my burial, and it just so happens that this process fits my plans perfectly! I have been assured by mr Sullivan that if I were so inclined, I could preserve the structure of the bones rather than powdering them. I would have my skull reinforced and then filled with soil (fertilised with my own bio-gunk). In that soil, I'd have them plant a seed for what would grow up to become a huge tree bearing fruit! A hundred years later, the neighbourhood kids would still be scared witless of that tree, where a crazy old fool was buried (Alive, the rumors say!) and then a tree grew out of his eyesocket! The ghost tree would be the stuff of legends, I say! Legends!
... Until someone cuts it down to build a Starbucks there, of course.
If you want to read more about the technology and the process, I suggest you check Resomation Ltd's official website or this very easy-to-read and accurate description of the process of resomation at Cremate Me.net. Personally, even if I can't have my elaborate plan set in motion, I'm sold on resomation.
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