New cremation method uses water not fire

By Tony Bartlett/AAP with AG staff 13 August 2010
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Taking a leaf from nature, an Australian has developed a new method to cremate bodies using water rather than fire.

THE WORLD’S FIRST WATER cremation centre on the Gold Coast in Queensland is offering a novel alternative to cremation and burial, using a process it hopes will become widespread in the funeral industry.

Aquamation Industries chief executive John Humphries says the service, at the Eco Memorial Park at Stapylton near Dreamworld, is the first of its kind in the world. But he expects around 30 centres around Australia will offer the option within 12 months.

“Aquamation is a more natural, ethical and environmentally friendly alternative to cremations and uses water instead of fire to return a body to nature,” John says. “And within a year we would expect you would be able to have this done anywhere in Australia.”

Water to ashes

The process, called alkaline hydrolysis, relies on the same processes that decompose a body naturally, but speeds them up using heat, pressure and alkalinity. “So we’ve put this totally natural process into a stainless steel tube where the body is washed for about four hours. It’s the same natural breakdown of tissue, just at a faster rate,” he says.

John says the equipment he invented was based on an experimental unit in the US that uses extreme pressure and temperature to destroy the infectious remains of cattle with mad cow disease.

“We haven’t invented the process; nature discovered that,” he says. “We’ve simply re-designed the equipment so the water breaks down the cells and brings the body back to the chemical component it’s made up of, leaving only white chalky bones which are returned to the family in an urn, like ashes.”

Aquamation costs about the same as cremation, but without the 200 kg of greenhouse gas emissions produced in a cremation. “It’s expected that in America, within about 10 years, there won’t be cremations because the public reaction to this process is just overwhelming,” John says. The technology, he adds, was also an answer to new European regulations that state mercury pollution has to be reduced at crematoriums by 2012.