The prospect of Promession, the brainchild of Susanne Wiighe-Masak, has been around for a few years now. It offers an extremely attractive alternative to cremation. It is clean. It is gentle. Above all, it enables us to return to the earth in an environmentally useful way. If you want to remind yourself how it works, go here.
The method of preparing a body for disposal by freeze drying it was invented in the US by Philip Backman. He patented it in 1978, and that patent has now expired. Backman’s proposed method of reducing the body to particles left a little to be desired (I have emphasised the key passage in bold):
“A further step entails subjecting the intact, frozen body to fractionalizing means reducing same to a particulate state. This step may be termed surface enhancement i.e., an increase in surface area of the remains is provided. Existing mechanical means such as that used in the reduction of organic or inorganic substances may be utilized in this step. By way of example, a hammer mill may be utilized.”
Promessa’s breakthrough was to develop a process whereby the body can be reduced to particles by means not of hammer mill but vibration.
At the end of last year or the beginning of this (I can’t remember) I cast doubt on whether Promessa had, actually, managed to perfect this most important stage of the process. This earned me a letter from Promessa’s lawyers. I withdrew the blog post and stood back.
Yesterday I was able to go and hear Susanne Wiighe-Masak speak at the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM) annual conference. For this I am indebted to the kindness of Julie Dunk, Technical Services and Events Manager at the ICCM. It was my chance to apologise to Susanne in person, and also to listen also to the presentation by Richard Maclean, Business Development Director of Cryomation Ltd, a UK firm which has developed its own, rival freeze-drying technology.
Susanne spoke with a passion born of idealism and showed us the short film above describing the promession process. Richard Maclean spoke with the detachment of a technocrat. He outlined the development history of the Cryomation process and described briefly how it reduces the body to a ‘safe and sterile powder’ using heat and compression. He told us that Cryomation Ltd had tried to reduce a frozen body to particles by means of vibration but had failed.
Both processes have attracted interest in countries around the world. Each developer will bring their Promator and Cryomator, respectively, to market imminently.