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My perspectives on Resomation by Julian Atkinson, Director of Kindly Earth Limited


My perspectives on Resomation

By Julian Atkinson- Director, Kindly Earth Limited

Across history, we see the diverse ways in which cultures revere the body in death and dispose of it in a manner which upholds tradition and reflects the life of the person and the belief system of the community.

In the UK we have long-standing funeral methods similar to those of many other countries. Burial or interment below or above the ground allows the body to decay naturally, and the elements of the body (such as oxygen, hydrogen, calcium and nitrogen) are re-absorbed into our environment.  Cremation uses energy derived from other sources such as gas or electricity. Burning the body at high temperatures displaces the elements in the water of which the body is largely composed.  As these are vaporised into the atmosphere, many potentially harmful compounds are released.

Using the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis for human disposal, whilst a relatively recent innovation, has been researched and developed over many years, originating in the USA. There are variations in the way the process is delivered by the alkaline hydrolysis systems which have been developed- for example in the length of time the process takes. In common to all systems is the use of water, a 5% alkaline solution, heat, and pressure, given that the process takes place within a sealed chamber.


Kindly Earth- the origins

During my time as owner of JC Atkinson, an environmentally conscious UK coffin manufacturer, I first encountered alkaline hydrolysis whilst visiting the US in 2012.  Recognising its benefits, I worked to develop a coffin which could be suitable for use in this new process. Successfully using waste vegetable matter (potato peel) we were able to form a coffin made only of natural elements, our expectation being this would dissolve during the process.

Moving on from JC Atkinson, I wanted to pursue my passions for innovation and care for the environment. I considered the science and the environmental status of alkaline hydrolysis very carefully.  In 2019, working with Giraffe Innovation, I commissioned an independent study into the process. (Having met Giraffe’s owner, Professor Rob Holdway in 2005, in the years that followed, JC Atkinson had commissioned six studies and four Life Cycle Assessments into coffins looking at burial and cremation and innovations such as wicker, wool and picture coffins).

For the 2019 study on Resomation, Giraffe Innovation used actual operational data from the US from a founding facility (Bradshaw’s, Minneapolis). A Life Cycle Assessment for Resomation, aligned to ISO protocols was produced. This encompassed the full life cycle including the manufacture of the potassium hydroxide used in the process.

Results showed that Resomation compared favourably to cremation in most aspects. The many variables within the cremation process, such as the size of the individual, the coffin used and the time and day of the week on which the cremation took place, needed to be carefully navigated. Notwithstanding these variables, on a mean basis Resomation was found to have significantly lower Global Warming Potential (CO2eq) than non-abated gas cremation.

The study also considered all cremation chimney emissions and the environmental impact of these. By comparison, Resomation has no direct air emissions.

Influenced by the evidence from the study, I went on to form Kindly Earth Ltd, with Howard Pickard, MD, LBBC Group- the owners of Resomation Limited and manufacturer of their alkaline hydrolysis equipment. Kindly Earth’s purpose is to promote understanding and adoption of the technology in the UK and globally.

We want to continue to evolve this research by carrying out a pilot of Resomation to provide robust data to further support these claims. The aim is to compare the research against existing and emerging cremation technology using current UK-based data.


A credible additional funeral choice

The public have the right to full choice in their funeral options, whether that be choice of coffin, style of service or method of disposal. Just as we have seen funeral operators evolve their services to include direct cremations for example, then I envisage they, and the cremation sector will similarly evolve by offering Resomation.

Many in the UK funeral sector are supportive as they understand the value of choice and are persuaded by the evidence based environmental benefits we choose to publish. Kindly Earth see crematoria, given their excellent locations, mostly near conurbations, and their excellent family facilities, as favourable customers for Resomation. Funeral directors will evolve to offer and represent the service. Of course, market share will be small at first, just as it was for cremation. Given the climate change emergency we are experiencing, however, when the benefits are fully and widely understood, we believe adoption will be successful.

For the bereaved family arranging a funeral, the choice of the type of funeral will be based on information and affordability. It’s more about how the process ‘feels’ as a fitting final ending for their loved one than the technology and the equipment used. Anecdotal information from the US indicates this- water can feel more ‘natural’ than flame. Public interest tends to be generated only when things go wrong- the public entrust the sector to undertake their wishes in an ethical and dignified manner.


Julian Atkinson