Hydromation ® – Frequently Asked Questions

Hydromation is our Name for Alkaline Hydrolysis

What is It?

Hydrolysis is a very common thing in Nature. It happens in our own bodies constantly to help us stay alive.

Hydrolysis like a lot of words in chemistry comes from the Greek, hydro (water) and lysis (loosening).  Thus, hydrolysis is the breaking of chemical bonds by inserting parts of a water molecule where there was once a bond. Alkaline hydrolysis occurs in the presence of a strong base; acid hydrolysis occurs in many reactions such as in our stomachs; enzymatic hydrolysis can occur under more neutral conditions as well acid conditions like our stomach.

The food we consume is digested in a series of reactions that involve hydrolysis, both acid and enzymatic.  When the nutrients are broken down into usable pieces, our bodies use them for energy or to build muscles and bone, lungs, hearts, and livers.  Over a lifetime these parts are constantly turning over – being broken down bit by bit on a microscopic level and rebuilt in equally small increments.  When we eat too much or work too little, we sometimes add more weight than is useful. When we get old, our ability to rebuild these tissues diminishes and we eventually  die.  Or we die from other causes, before our time as they say.

What to do when we die?

As a practical matter we have two choices of what happens to us when we die. Hydrolysis or oxidation.

Cremation does not involve hydrolysis. It is oxidation, combining elements with oxygen. After the water in a body is driven off into the atmosphere from the heat of cremation, the soft parts of a body burn like coal or wood to form carbon dioxide and a few sulfur and nitrogen containing gasses. Setting aside religious or cultural objections to cremation, some people object to it because carbon dioxide and possibly contaminants like mercury are put into the atmosphere. The bones are mostly calcium phosphate and are returned.  Cremation also uses a fuel source, such as natural gas, that contributes to additional carbon dioxide.

Another choice is to chose a method of disposition that depends on hydrolysis.  Burial in the ground depends mostly on hydrolysis by bacteria. Bacteria use chemical reactions similar the way we digest food to break complex molecules down into components they can use. In this way those elements are returned to the soil and are constantly recycled by abundant life underground or used by plants that grow in the ground.

Natural burial in the ground results in a rapid decomposition. Other burial practices such as embalming, caskets, and vaults slow the process down – sometimes for centuries. Some disinterred civil war veterans buried in iron caskets remain astonishingly well preserved to this day.

Alkaline hydrolysis accomplishes the same thing as ground burial except the reaction takes only a few hours. The elements of the body are returned to the earth by various paths and result in the same use by lower life forms. The bones are returned in the same way they are after cremation.

How does it work?

During alkaline hydrolysis, an individual body is placed into a totally sterile stainless steel basket (left).

image of hydromation retort

The basket is then placed into a reaction chamber where a 5% water solution of potassium and sodium hydroxide is introduced.  The water is heated and the pressure is increased, which rapidly accelerates the hydrolysis reaction. This breaks down protein and fats in the body into simpler peptides, fatty acids, and salts,  which are water soluble.  When the reaction is complete, the chamber is rinsed with cool, clean water until no alkaline residue remains. The wet bones are removed from the chamber and dried.  Nothing is released into the atmosphere.

What do the remains look like?

Hydromated Remains – Color may vary due to lighting

The dried bones are separated from any implanted devices and reduced to a fine creamy white powder.  The quantity of bone material recovered is about 10-20% greater than the amount recovered after cremation. There is usually no hint of discoloration.  A non-reactive metal identification tag is hydromated with the body and returned with the remains so correct identification is guaranteed at every step of the process.

The fine white powder is placed in a plastic bag along with the identification tag, which is then placed in a temporary heavy plastic urn.  As with cremated remains, it can be safely handled, divided, used to make blown glass cremation art, scattered, placed in another urn to keep at home or in a cemetery, or used in many other ways to creatively memorialize the person.

 

Is Hydromation Green?

As you search the Internet for alkaline hydrolysis in Washington, you will see numerous references to alkaline hydrolysis as a green alternative to cremation.  Some call it Eco-friendly Flameless Cremation, Aqua Cremation, water cremation, and green cremation. We have commented elsewhere on the use of the term GREEN – HERE (opens in a new window). Green is usually used as a marketing tool, sometimes sincerely and sometimes foolishly.

The Truth about “Green” Cremation, Burial, and Hydromation®

 

Just the Facts

Here are some facts about alkaline hydrolysis so you can decide for yourself.

The word cremation comes from Latin cremare “to burn, consume by fire.” But you already knew that and, as described above, burning is a totally different process from hydrolysis. Calling it water cremation, or flameless cremation, and even green cremation is misleading. Calling it green can be slightly misleading too.

Presumably in order to be green, something cannot use much energy, and cannot contaminate the soil, water, or atmosphere. By this standard, Hydromation is  green.  It uses a lot less energy than the actual process of  cremation. But the energy used in cremation is just a part of the total human activity involved in taking care of the dead. All human activity in the U.S. uses a lot of energy.  Both cremation and Hydromation use just a tiny increment of the energy we either use wisely or waste.

Nothing is discharged into the atmosphere except a tiny amount of water that may evaporate during and after the process.  The wet remains are air dried. The water portion, the effluent, is totally sterile.  It is usually discharged into the municipal sewer system, but depending on the availability of agriculture or forestry  enterprises in the area, the effluent can also be spread on fields or forests for its nutrient value.

Is it Sustainable?

Sustainability means that the needs of present generations don’t prevent future generations from meeting their needs in similar ways.  Hydromation meets this test.

The materials required for Hydromation are water (about 80 gallons), potassium and sodium hydroxide, electricity ( to run pumps), and natural gas to heat water.

In the Northwest we have an abundance of water.  All of the water used in Hydromation is returned to the atmosphere through natural evaporation, and then eventually falls as rain somewhere.

Potassium and Sodium Hydroxide are inexpensively manufactured from potassium and sodium chloride by an electrical process called electrolysis. The raw materials are abundant. When they are used in Hydromation, the resulting sodium and potassium salts are returned to the environment in a water solution.  Because they are basic chemicals required for industry, there will always be a cost effective way to obtain them.

The electrical and natural gas requirements for Hydromation are about 20% of that used for cremation. Solar electric and solar thermal could meet those needs with future technology.