Aquamation, or alkaline hydrolysis, is a process in which the body of the deceased is immersed for a few hours in a mixture of water and a strong alkali in a pressurized metal cylinder and heated to around 150 degree centigrade.
The combination of gentle water flow, temperature and alkalinity accentuate the breakdown of the organic materials.
The Cremation Association of North America (CANA), an international non-profit organisation, defines alkaline hydrolysis as “flameless cremation”. Considered to be an environmentally friendly way to dispose of a body, the process is also known as water cremation, green cremation or chemical cremation.
The process leaves behind bone fragments and a neutral liquid called effluent. The CANA website states, “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.”
How long has alkaline hydrolysis been in use?
The process was developed and patented in 1888 by Amos Herbert Hanson, a farmer who was trying to develop an ingenious way to make fertilizer from animal carcasses.
The first commercial system was installed at Albany Medical College in 1993. Thereafter, the process continued to be in use by hospitals and universities with donated body programmes.