More Green Silliness

I couldn't care less what happens to my body after I die and I am done using it.  So the following, which I suppose is intended to freak me out, simply leaves me amazed yet again at green thinking

Undertakers in Belgium plan to eschew traditional burials and cremations and start dissolving corpses instead.

The move is intended to tackle a lack of burial space and environmental concerns as 573lbs of carbon dioxide are released by each cremated corpse.

Under the process, known as resomation, bodies are treated in a steel chamber with potassium hydroxide at high pressure and a temperature of 180c (350f).

The raised pressure and temperature means the body reaches a similar end point as in standard cremation "” just bones left to be crushed up "” in two to three hours.

My first thought on reading this was "Soylent Green is People!"

My second is to wonder how a torched body creates 573 pounds of CO2.  12 pounds of carbon combusts to 44 pounds (approx) of Co2.  This means that to combust to 573 pounds of Co2, the human body must have 156 pounds of carbon.  WTF?   But carbon in 18% of human body weight, which means that to produce 573 pounds of CO2, the human body would have to weigh 867 pounds.   One might be able to get this number by including the cremation fuel in the equation (though this is a generous interpretation since this is not how the article is written), but since it is usually gas used for cremation it would take a hell of a lot of gas given its low carbon content.

My third thought is what does any of this have to do with CO2 reduction

  • The process occurs at 350F.  You mean no fossil fuels are used to get the chamber up to 350F.  What, are they using solar mirrors?
  • The process occurs at high pressure.  This takes energy
  • The end product is a carb0n rich soup that they pour down the drain or pour on their garden.  I have a clue for you, all oxidation is not combustion.  That carbon dumped in your garden or in your compost heap will still become CO2 even without seeing aflame.
  • caseyboy

    Nice job on this one. I'm sure this process is provided free of charge. Has to lead to Soilent Green don't you think?

  • Jeff

    Carbon is carbon is carbon.

    Declaring CO2 a pollutant is both the smartest and dumbest thing the greens have ever done. Sure, they've created a problem that can never be solved, so they'll always have a reason to raise funds. But, CO2 is so pervasive, and necessary for life, that no one will care.

  • Russ T. Spork

    I suspect that the extra CO2 comes from the coffin (and perhaps some weak math), but how do you monetize saying "get cremated in a sack".

  • http://www.CycledLife.com Ed Gazvoda

    We are fortunate to be the first people with the know-how to minimize the public health risks and consumption of resources, at the time of our deaths. CycledBurial gives us the freedom to bury our loved ones in a manner that is respectful of the deceased and of the living.

    Burials have led to pandemics that have killed more people than have lost their lives in battle. The deceased eventually become liquid and pollute aquifers. Burying unsterile bodies places the living at risk. Protecting the living from the departed is a battle worth fighting.

    CycledBurial is a hygienic burial. It allows for a burial without the necessity of incurring the cost of a coffin, vault, or cemetery plot.

    Visit http://www.CycledLife.com for more details on this new burial option.

  • A Friend

    They should try in-people sequestration, which the Egyptians developed. SOYLENT GREEN IS KING TUT!

  • Pat Moffitt

    As you have shown- without a mass balance analysis we know nothing.

  • ben

    This would be a quirky, harmless story is envorinmentalists were not so reloigiously, foaming at the mouth opposed to letting people make up their own minds. Ok, this idea takes off among some. The very first thing that will happen, and in Europe probably succeed, is that governments will pass minimum disolving burials. Next thing - everyone's gotta do it. Sigh.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Please note that the story originates from Belgium, which does suffer from both small space, and an abnormally high number of interments due to it's "Doormat to France" location and subsequent regular sesquicentennial use by ze Germans.

  • Dr. T

    Obviously, the Belgian lawmakers didn't consult a chemist. I bet that the overall energy costs are higher for KOH dissolution than for gas burner cremation because it takes energy to produce highly concentrated KOH solutions. (KOH is produced by electrolysis of KCl in water. The process also generates hydrogen gas and toxic chlorine gas. Electrolytic chemical production, not surprisingly, requires large amounts of electricity. Most KOH is manufactured in China, Taiwan, and India with electricity derived from pollution-spewing coal-powered plants.)

    Body disposal costs will be higher than with cremation, because the high pressure containers and plumbing must be highly resistant to corrosion and will be expensive. There is danger to employees, because KOH is one of the most caustic substances known (If given the choice between two awfuls, I'd dunk my hand in sulfuric acid rather than equivalent strength potassium hydroxide.) If one of those high-pressure body-dissolving systems fails, the spewed KOH could cause a disaster.

    I also bet that the real reason this law was passed is to score points with Green voters who naively believe that not using fossil fuels equals a better environment. The law almost certainly will generate a worse environmental outcome than gas furnace cremation.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Excellent points Dr. T, was wondering that myself (didn't read the chemistry closely). Get enough exothermic reactions/collateral environmental damage with this new process, and what's the point?

  • Jody

    The CO2 calculation as best as I can guess.

    Assumption 1: your weight = all carbon.
    Assumption 2: CO2 is made entirely by the addition of oxygen from the air, not oxygen from you.

    Then the increase in CO2 mass = (12+32) / 12 = 3.6x your carbon mass.

    573 lbs / 3.6 = 156 lbs which is not an unusual weight.

    However, most of your weight is water (~60%), so even being generous (ignoring oxygen in you and assuming all that is not water is carbon), I figure it should be no more than 230 lbs of CO2.

  • Ron H.

    Ed Gazvoda said:

    "Visit http://www.CycledLife.com for more details on this new burial option.:

    Wow! What a lot of questions this raises.

    First, why are the people laughing in the picture at that link? Are they showing that they think this idea is as big a joke as I do? I would think that respect for the dead, even dead being cooked, would require that they maintain a somber expression.

    "Burials have led to pandemics that have killed more people than have lost their lives in battle."

    I would love to see references for this assertion

    "The deceased eventually become liquid and pollute aquifers."

    Ditto.

    "Burying unsterile bodies places the living at risk."

    I believe this only a risk for grave robbers.

    "Protecting the living from the departed is a battle worth fighting."

    Well, I certainly agree with that. Here's an example:

  • epobirs

    There is another possible motivation here. Consider how much of the European landscape would be consumed with graveyard if not for ossuaries. (We were watching 'Cemetary Man' Friday night and I had to explain to my brother what an ossuary was and why it existed. As Rodney Dangerfield said in 'Caddyshack,' "Golf courses and cemetaries are the two biggest wastes of real estate.")

    Avoiding the consumption of real estate by corpses is something Europeans have had to deal with for centuries. I've always thought this would be a nifty application for a fusion reactor. Be reduced to your component atoms.

  • jimbeaux

    I suppose when the undertakers in Belgium have a sale, it's a "TOTAL LIQUIDATION!!" sale. : )

  • caseyboy

    Too bad space launches aren't more economical. We would stack the stiffs in the cargo space and launch them to points unknown.

  • GregS

    Even if cremation did release 573 pounds of CO2, most of that would be carbon-neutral - i.e., most of it wouldn't be increasing the level of carbon in the atmosphere. CO2 emissions only increase atmospheric CO2 levels if the carbon comes from some source like oil, where it wasn't in the atmosphere before. If you burn biological material like plants or corpses, the CO2 that is released is CO2 that some biological process removed from the atmosphere, so there's no net increase in CO2 levels. This is the reasoning environmentalists use when arguing for biofuels. In a cremation, the carbon in the body and coffin will mostly be of atmospheric origin. Only the carbon in the fuel could be an issue, and you could get around that by using biofuels in the cremation.

  • Jeff

    Dr. T. has an excellent point, but I think you are missing where the CO2 comes from...

    It is not the mass of the body/coffin, it is the fuel burned to generate the heat for cremation. Traditional cremation is talking 800+ celsius, versus 160 required in this high pressure chemical reaction process. The heat required probably accounts for the variance in CO2 released from burning the fuel.

  • Pete

    Gee havent these guys heard of composting. It requires minimal extra energy (if any efort is put into it).I still reduces the volume. It also has the added benefit of not needing cemetaries because the family can spread the compost onto the family garden and enjoy the flowers or whatever for years to come. Heck growing plants with the compost could count as carbon seqeustration making the whole process carbon neutral :)