Introducing Alkaline Hydrolysis

By Deane Barker on May 9, 2008

New in mortuary science: Dissolving bodies with lye: Don’t read this before lunch.

Since they first walked the planet, humans have either buried or burned their dead. Now a new option is generating interest — dissolving bodies in lye and flushing the brownish, syrupy residue down the drain.

[…] The coffee-colored liquid has the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell. But proponents say it is sterile and can, in most cases, be safely poured down the drain, provided the operation has the necessary permits.

I think it would be weird to not exist like that. With burial, you have a body. With cremation you have ashes. With this, you have…nothing. You get turned into liquid then spread throughout the sewer system.

It was like you never existed. There is no physical record of you left.



  1. or try hydrophilic acid (see Breaking Bad, S1 E02)

    the cremation ashes thing…. i’ve always wondered if those are really your ashes. It seems a bit too convenient to me that a full human could be burned and the ashes fit nicely in a little urn you can keep on your mantel. I mean, are those all the ashes? Do they have a bigger pile, throw some away and just give you the rest? Can’t they get the furnace hot enough so that you are effectively disintegrated and you would be left with little to no ashes? Who says they don’t just keep a big pile of dust that they dole out to families and just get rid of all the real ashes?

    and hey, who says you have to flush the lye-remains down the toilet? Just keep it in a milk jug and put it above your fireplace where the urn would be. :P

    not to mention, you seem to have missed this sentence

    In addition to the liquid, the process leaves a dry bone residue similar in appearance and volume to cremated remains. It could be returned to the family in an urn or buried in a cemetery.
  2. That reminds me of an episode of CSI; a vagrant was being a nuisance to a hotel security guy, so the security guy beats him up, stuffs him into a duffel bag and leaves him out in the desert, figuring he’ll wake up later and be able to get out on his own. Instead, CSI gets to figure out who became “the brownish, syrupy residue” left in the bag. Ugh.

  3. As to the poster’s question about the volume of cremains, the ash is strictly the bones. The rest goes out the chimney stack; at a high enough temperature, everything is flammable except the mineral content of the bones. It’s one of the criticisms of cremation; it contributes to air pollution, and if the person was also embalmed before they were cremated, what goes in to the air can be quite toxic. On the other hand, decaying bodies full of formaldehyde can’t do much to nourish the earth, either.

  4. If anyone, here, has researched alkaline hydrolysis, then you know that the bones are not completely dissolved and have to be put into a cremulator to pound them into the dust that is the equivalent of what’s left after the cremation process. If keeping what remains of a loved one is important, then alkaline hydrolysis would be an excellent alternative to cremation because it’s better for the living by not producing residual polution. Another eco-friendly alternative I’ve read about is Compacting. In this process you are still left with a physical item consisting of the deceased, but in a decorative form. And it’s also eco-friendly.

  5. JOE: The pH is fairly high because of the alkali used (pH ~ 10.9). Depending on the disposal method, this can be adjusted – I won’t go into detail, but there are several methods for lowering that pH. I would assume if the process was used on human tissue, the resulting effluent would be disposed of through the sewer system. For the fluid remains of animal carcasses however, it would be beneficial to spread it as a fertilizer or add it as an enriching agent to compost or manure slurries. The fertilizer value would be similar to that of a rich compost fertilizer, or miracle grow. You can also harvest the methane for energy! The sterile fluid is an excellent stockfeed for anaerobic digesters. p.s. the bones (easily crushed) are great fertilizer as well! (spread it on your rose bushes!)…. The biggest draw to alkaline hydrolysis tissue digestion is disease control. Cool stuff!! You’ll be seeing more of it!

  6. I have researched AK. The liquid has a high nutrient value (I forget the NPK values but it’s excellent fertilizer and criminal to put it down the drain as they do at the Mayo clinic. It ought to go on forest or field and does need to be neutralized before application). The “ashes” (imprecise term for both cremation and AK) are 25% more in AK and do not contain ashes from any other bodies as do cremation ashes (states often set a legal limit to the amount of ‘comingling.’ Cremation ashes not good for the environment and some favorite places are banning such as national parks. AK ‘bone shadows’ are pure calcium phosphate which is good for soil. the Aquamation ™ website has a good overview. That’s where I learned that the Cremation Society in England which has supported that option for years “until something better comes along” is now recommending AK.

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