Keep calm and do the science

Charles 4 Comments

A cryomator. Pic source


Well-meaning ignorance fuels lots of heated debate in Funeralworld. Broadsides of stats are exchanged, but how many of them are verifiable? In one thing we can trust: probably no one’s yet done the science. 

Take the following press release from the respected news agency Reuters: 

Globally, cremation emits over 6.8 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, accounting for around 0.02 percent of world carbon dioxide emissions, experts estimate.

Typical. Authoritative-sounding stats undermined by the last two words. Substitute ‘some people guess’. 

What follows, though, will interest those who have been following the freeze-dry saga and its two players, promession and its successor, cryomation. We’ve always been fans of the Cryomation people here at the GFG.

Suffolk-based Cryomation Ltd has developed a technology which freezes a body using liquid nitrogen until it is brittle, removes metal elements and turns the remains into a powder which could be composted, buried in a natural graveyard or scattered.

Having proven the technology, the firm is now seeking 1.5 million pounds to build the first unit.

We believe this to be correct.

“The cryomation process has been talked about for far too long but never been delivered,” said Paul Smith, business development manager at parent company IRTL.

Right, Paul. Yes, we can read between the lines!

“Our technology (..) can remove moisture at a cost-effective rate and at a suitable speed to make it a viable alternative to cremation with lots of environmental benefits,” he added.

Excellent. And the first part of the next sentence certainly rings true:

A report last year by Dutch research group TMO said resomation and cryomation had the lowest environmental impact of all funeral methods and burial had the highest.

What?!? Burial’s the worst of the lot??

Indeed, burial is not a “green” option. It takes up space underground, the decaying process emits the greenhouse gas methane and caskets use a lot of steel, copper, bronze or wood.

Think what we could do with all that underground space. As for methane, is this, someone please tell us, a graveyard myth? If it’s a myth it certainly once had me fooled but I think, am I right? that it’s been exploded. Does it actually pose any risk at all? If it does, the solution lies in ensuring that buried dead people enjoy aerobic decomposition by burying them nearer the surface. As for caskets, well, we needn’t bother ourselves with them, we’re mostly good ole toe-pincher people over here. 

The effect of formaldehyde-based embalming chemicals when they leak into the soil and air through burial is also thought to be potentially damaging but needs more research.

Thought to be, eh? We’ll wait for them to finish their ‘more research’ if you don’t mind. Uttering hunches while they’re at it rather negates the point of doing it, yes? Surely it can’t be that flipping difficult to discover what happens to formaldehyde when it seeps into the earth. 

If any reader can help us out with some verifiable facts in these areas, you’ll be doing us all a great kindness. 

Full story here


Resomation: all that is left. Pic source




  1. Charles

    I’m a big fan of the possibilities for both new processes, but it is a terrible shame that in the desperate rush to win the high ground Resomation has resorted to talking bollocks. As you rightly point out, this myth about graves taking up valuable space is just that. What is taking up valuable space is out of town retail ‘villages’. Bodies do not have to be embalmed, wood can be sustainable and the low tech nature of the whole process wins every time. Such a shame they couldn’t just stick to bugging up their product, rather than dissing the alternatives.

  2. Charles

    Hi Charles,

    Just found this – I really should visit more often! Anyhow, I’m responding to the charge that burial is more environmentally negative than the above programs. Of course, you know how I feel about THAT. However, my obvious predisposition aside, I think I’ve got a couple of objective points I can put out there that might be useful.

    1) Any process has within it what is known as “embodied energy.” This is the footprint of the total costs of using the process, and when the process requires a machine-based technology as compared to a natural process that comes of its own accord (like decomposition, for example), it’s interesting to examine.

    In the case of a cremator or a cryomator, that E-Factor would include the energy used in making the metals and parts that formed the oven or machine, for example, or all the energy used in extracting, refining, and delivering the fuel used to run it, along with whatever’s involved in closing down or decommissioning the machine eventually (it’s cost to recycle all that metal, for example). Additionally, such technologies usually have a facility that goes along with them – a building or two that are required; and people to tend the process and cars to get them to and fro; that sort of thing.

    2) The microbes in our underground decomposition factory don’t require too much external support. In fact, they’d be a LOT happier if chemicals and such were not sprayed on their little heads, leaving them to eat in peace. As far as taking up space goes, well you know where I am on that score: grave re-use is the only sensible thing to do…however, if there’s a tree living on me, I’m not averse to letting the tree live out a 100+ year life, but that’s the tree who’s getting the space, not me. Oh, and I doubt we’ll be seeing any nesting owls in the factory stacks, nor squirrels or birds in its nooks and crannies – more likely there will be those wire things that poke them in their bums and don’t allow a body to sit down…so, score “zero” for making habitat…

    I’m definitely with you and this team’s need to diss natural burial in their own self-promotion. They make a wrong argument, a bad argument, a useless argument, and I never could see why they went down that road in the first place. It’s not like natural burial fans are going to say “Ooh, they’re right – I’d much rather be chemically pressurized or rendered than turn into a nasty old ground-using tree…” and they won customers, so I’m not quite sure why they even bothered to stoop.

    Just two more cents from your American fan club!

  3. Charles

    Oh yes, another bit I noticed — formaldehyde, as far as I can tell, is not a by-product of natural burial. It’s a funeral component and has nothing to do with burial.

    With respect to burial, formaldehyde doesn’t “leak into the air” as the reporter states; that’s patently absurd. And, as I’ve said many times, I’m not so sure it has a negative impact when buried as it rapidly converts to base elements (water, carbon, etc.) almost immediately. I keep asking people to refrain from citing it as a leachate danger until studies prove it, but that’s like whistling in the wind.

    Its chief problem, aside from wiping out the body’s decomposer microbes who end up getting a late start (and possibly messing up the decomp process sequence itself) is that it can sicken and/or kill early the mortuary workers who are exposed to it…but worker health? Who has time for THAT one these days….

  4. Charles

    Seems like none of the science has ever been done on any of the freezing and breaking up corpse type options – unlike resomation which definitely exists and has been done but even now, years on, would benefit from some good comparative data rather than that rather flawed TMO data.

    The Law Commission needs to get its science head on though. Someone has been fooling them. There is no evidence that Promession or Cryomation are being used or developed anywhere in the world.

    See this published by the Law Commission this month:


    Expected start date: As and when resources allow
    Expected duration: 2
    – 3 years
    The law governing how we dispose of the bodies of our loved ones when they die is
    unfit for modern needs. While we often think of the choice as being between burial and
    on, new methods of disposal are being developed and are being used in other
    countries. These include resomation (a process using alkaline hydrolysis to reduce the
    body to ash) and promession/cryomation (a process using liquid nitrogen to crystallise
    the body and vibration to disintegrate it into particles). These methods are completely
    unregulated here, which is an unsatisfactory position that acts as a disincentive to
    innovation and investment, and potentially takes away choice. Further, the legislation
    verning more traditional methods of disposal is outdated, piecemeal and complex.
    The law does not ensure that a person’s own wishes as to the disposal of their remains
    are carried out, leading to disputes where family members disagree. Disputes also arise
    as to entitlement to a person’s remains.
    The law is, in some instances, out of touch with the public’s expectations, and is not
    always reflective of diverse family structures and an increasingly multicultural and
    -aware society. The problem
    s in the law lead to additional stress and
    emotional upset at an already distressing time in people’s lives and additional cost to
    the individuals and organisations (including local and central Government) involved.
    This project will seek to create a futur
    e-proof legal framework that brings the existing
    law into line with modern practices and enables safe and dignified new processes to be
    made available in England and Wales. The project would also seek to provide greater
    certainty that a person’s wishes in respect of what happens to their body following death
    are respected, whilst ensuring that the public interest in this sensitive area of law is
    properly respected

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