What is ‘Aquamation’?

8 January 2022.


On January 8, 2022, the body of Nobel Peace Prize winning Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu underwent aquamation in Cape Town. Aquamation is a green alternative to traditional cremation methods.

What is aquamation?

  • Aquamation, also called as alkaline hydrolysis, is a process in which the dead body is immersed in a mixture of water and a strong alkali in pressurized metal cylinder, for a few hours. It is then heated to about 150 degrees centigrade.
  • Combination of gentle water flow, alkalinity and temperature accentuate the breakdown of organic materials.
  • As per Cremation Association of North America (CANA), alkaline hydrolysis is a “flameless cremation”.
  • This process is considered as an environment friendly way of disposing of a body.
  • It is also dubbed as water cremation, green cremation or chemical cremation.

What is left behind the water cremation?

  • The process of water cremation leaves behind bone fragments and neutral liquid called effluent.
  • Decomposition through this process is similar to what happens during burial, just sped up dramatically by using chemicals.
  •  The effluent is sterile, and it comprises of amino acids, salts, sugars, and peptides. No tissue and DNA is left after this process.
  •  The neutral liquid is discharged with all other wastewater and it can be added to the water systems.

When was this process developed?

  • Amos Herbert Hanson had developed and patented this process in 1888.
  • He was a farmer who was trying to develop an ingenious way of making fertilizer from animal carcasses.
  •  However, the first commercial system was installed in 1993 at Albany Medical College.
  •  After that, this process continued to be in use by hospitals and universities. In 2011, this process was used in funeral industry in Ohio and Florida.

Significance of Aquamation

  • Aquamation uses five times less energy than fire.
  • It reduces the amount of greenhouse gases by about 35%, as compared to other way of cremation.

Why did Tutu’s body undergo water cremation?

Because, he had always been passionate about protecting the environment. He had always wanted a simple funeral ceremony. He wished for a cheap coffin and eco-friendly cremation.

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