Ask the Cremation Doctor


The High Pressure/High Temperature Difference
February 14, 2012, 7:55 pm
Filed under: Alkaline Hydrolysis, BIO Cremation, Cremation Technology, Green, Green Cremation

Preserving the environment: it has been a vital part of Matthews’ culture for over 60 years. In keeping with our ongoing commitment to “Preserve, Protect and Educate”, we are proud to be the “Cremation Green” champion for the death care industry. Bio Cremation through Resomation is an alternative that protects our most valuable natural resources. It uses alkaline hydrolysis (heat, water and potassium hydroxide) to decompose human remains. Alkaline Hydrolysis accelerates the natural decomposition process just like the flame cremation. High pressure and high temperature (HP/HT) is used to destroy all pathogens.

Public safety is a core value for Matthews Cremation. It is imperative that legislation and/or funeral home and crematory guidelines require that HP/HT destroy all pathogens, prions and neurodegenerative diseases such as TSE and CJD. It is best to use the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) temperature requirement of 370 degrees F and hold for 30 to 45 minutes. Unlike Matthews Cremation, not all alkaline hydrolysis equipment manufacturers meet this public safety requirement.



The Launch of Bio Cremation
November 30, 2011, 7:35 pm
Filed under: Cremation Technology, Green Cremation

Today, we live in a world that encourages us to protect and preserve our natural resources. We are developing lifestyle trends that encourage behavior to lower the individual’s carbon footprint while at the same time reducing greenhouse gases and stabilizing climate change. In addition to lifestyle changes, we must consider what happens at the end of life and that transition back to earth. Environmentally focused end of life practices are growing in popularity and whether it’s a greener burial or greener cremation, we are all called to play a supportive role within our families and communities.

Since we at Matthews launched Bio Cremation (also known as Alkali Hydrolysis), I am always asked what exactly it is?  Bio Cremation is an environmentally focused alternative that replaces the use of flame with the utilization of water, blended with an alkali solution of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH ). The Human body is placed into a specially designed cremation chamber where water and alkali are added, heated and gently circulated over the body, initiating the cremation process.  The use of Alkali Hydrolysis is a proven technology, newly introduced into funeral service as an environmental alternative to traditional flame cremation. Alkali Hydrolysis uses 95% water and 5% potassium hydroxide (KOH). KOH is an alkali (not acid), inorganic compound that is used in numerous health and beauty cosmetics, soft soaps and cleaning supplies you would commonly find at home. This sterile process prevents the release of emissions (carbon monoxide, particulates, mercury). This more eco-friendly process offers distinct environmental advantages even beyond traditional flame cremation. For more information, please visit us on Facebook at Facebook.com/BioCremation and our consumer web site at www.biocremationinfo.com

Steve Schaal
President – North America Region
Matthews Cremation



The Mortuary Science of Alkaline Hydrolysis – Is It Ethical?
May 20, 2011, 7:51 pm
Filed under: BIO Cremation, Green Cremation | Tags: ,

Sr. Renée Mirkes, O.S.F. Ph.D. is director of the Center for NaProEthics, the ethics division of the Pope Paul VI Institute, in Omaha, Nebraska. Sr. Mirkes published a thoughtful article in 2008 in The National Catholic Bioethics Center.

The article examines the philosophical thinking of several scholars on the subject of the dead human body, the Church’s long held views on burial and its changing views on cremation.  The article explains how in 1963, Pope Paul VI lifted the penalties previously connected to cremation by declaring that as long as faithful Catholics request cremation for valid reasons, i.e., reasons that arise from the exigencies of their situation but have nothing to do with denying the immortality of the soul or the resurrection of the body, it is a morally acceptable alternative to burial [6]

Sr. Mirkes then goes on to say, “There has been a change for the better in attitudes and in recent years more frequent and clearer situations impeding the practice of burial have developed. Consequently, the Holy See is receiving repeated requests for a relaxation of Church discipline relative to cremation. The procedure is clearly being advocated today, not out of hatred of the Church or Christian customs, but rather for reasons of health, economics, or other reasons involving private or public order”[7].

In regards to alkaline hydrolysis, Sr. Mirkes states, “A careful examination of the human body’s natural decomposition process after burial and the bodily decomposition involved in cremation reveals that the flashpoint of indignity with alkaline hydrolysis—specifically, pouring the liquid remains down a drain—is found in a similar form in the seepage after burial and in cremation through rain. Also, in the embalming process that precedes traditional burial, the blood and body fluids that are drained from the body are flushed into the sewer. Yet the Church does not forbid embalming. Furthermore, is burning a dead human body any less aggressive and, at first blush, any less offensive or violent, than the process of alkaline hydrolysis? And yet the Church allows cremation. Or, when we understand the slow, relentlessly destructive disintegration process within the buried body, is natural decomposition really any less offensive or repulsive than that which happens in alkaline hydrolysis?”[8] And therefore, “The process of alkaline hydrolysis is, in and of itself, a morally neutral action.”[9]

To reference footnotes and read entire article, please click here.



Cremation Basics: The Three T’s
February 11, 2011, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

The three T’s of proper pollution control are Temperature, Time and Turbulence.  Keeping these three factors in proper alignment are critical to the prevention of smoke and odor (i.e. pollution). Additionally, controlling these elements will go a long way towards higher efficiency and less maintenance issues.

Temperature
Sustaining a proper temperature range plays a major role in the proper operation and efficiency of cremation equipment.  Most cremation units are designed to operate most efficiently when the after-chamber holds a temperature between 1400˚F – 1800˚F. Above or below this range can result in unwanted pollution problems. Of course you will want to check with your manufacturer’s specifications to get the proper temperature range for your machine.

Time
Equally important as temperature is the retention time.  The retention time refers to the amount of time that the gases are exposed to the specific temperature. This will ensure total combustion of the smoke and odor from the exhaust gas before it leaves the stack. Environmental authorities throughout the United States and Canada have different regulations and most of these governing authorities require an after-chamber operating temperature of 1400˚F – 1800˚F with a retention time of .5 – 1 second.

Turbulence
The third T is turbulence. Turbulence refers to how much the air is mixed up inside the cremation equipment. It’s created by the presence of baffle walls and restrictions in the path of the exhaust gases. Without turbulence, proper time and temperature will be of little help and total combustion will not occur.  If any one of the three T’s is not present or insufficient, a pollution problem is likely to occur.

Rule of Thumb
Hotter is not always better: It’s a common misconception that if 1400˚ F is good, any temperature about that is even better. This isn’t true. Temperatures between 1400˚F – 1800˚F are of a certain volume. When gas cools, the volume decreases and likewise, as the temperatures get hotter, the gases expand. As the volume become too large, it moves more rapidly through the after-chamber, cause the retention time to lower and consequently causing pollution problems.

A balance of all three T’s must be maintained to ensure proper pollution control and operational efficiency.



The Problem With Pouches
October 22, 2010, 8:20 pm
Filed under: Cremation Technology, Green Cremation

For various reasons, bodies sometime arrive at the crematorium in a plastic pouch. This can be problematic for the operator as the high BTU content in plastic can release a lot of energy, causing excess heat and smoke. Now normally, these pouches are 2–4 mils thick (roughly the thickness of a balloon) and because of the low volume of the material, it usually won’t require any special precautions. The case can be cremated with the same settings as those used for a cardboard container.

Thicker pouches of 4 mils or more, such as those used by the military, are an exception. Heavy pouches cremate at an unusually fast rate due to the high BTU content of the pouch itself. Therefore, it is necessary to cremate a heavy pouch the same way you would a large body, even if the body itself is of an average size. Use the timer settings and operating sequence outlined for large bodies. Following this general rule of thumb will help to keep your retorts running clean and efficiently.

One way to take much of the guesswork out of any case is to equip your retort with intuitive logic controls (IPC). Matthews Cremation Division offers the M-Pyre Advanced Control Panel. All you need to do is provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What kind of container are you using?
  2. What is the weight of the body?
  3. What is the gender?
  4. What is the case number of the day?

Based on these parameters, it will set up your retort for the cleanest and most efficient burn. Additionally, it performs a continuous self-diagnostics and will alert the operator if any corrective action is needed. For further information, please visit our M-Pyre page.



The “Greening” of Cremation, Part V
August 16, 2010, 12:39 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

Oxygen Controls

While not entirely new, oxygen control systems are another available technology that has improved in performance and price. Oxygen control systems measure O2 levels in the secondary chamber’s exhaust gases. Controlling O2 provides benefits on many levels.

First, maintaining proper and steady oxygen levels during the combustion process provide for more effectively cleansing of the emissions. Secondly, optimal O2 levels equal less fuel consumption. Reducing fuel consumption not only reduces money spent, it also further reduces emissions. Thirdly, tighter control of oxygen reduces cremation time. Oxygen control systems are still considered pricey by some crematories but advances in technology and manufacturing have brought it into the realm of possibility.

Beliefs and motivations surrounding global warming and the environment will vary, as will the ability to afford and install the newest and most effective green technology. A common goal we can all embrace though is to learn as much as we can in regards to the industry and the environment, steadily moving towards improving our environmental signature in the communities we serve.



The “Greening” of Cremation, Part IV
August 13, 2010, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

New cremation technology is emerging in more affordable designs. This technology can decrease the use of fossil fuels in the combustion system and decrease emission from the cremation process –  both are a bonus to our environment.

Matthews M-Pyre™ (ILC – intuitive logic controls) is an automated control system that doesn’t require any guesswork on the part of the crematory operator. Industry professionals know there are significant variables in the types of cremation containers. Not only do the materials differ widely, but the weight can range from 7 to 170 pounds. The same situation applies to the cases. We receive human remains ranging from 60 to 600 pounds and those same bodies have varying fat tissue percentages from 4% to 40%. All these variables (and more!) impact the cremation process and the decisions operators have to make.

M-Pyre only requires the operator to answer four basic questions (case number of the day, gender, weight and type of case) and the ILC system automatically establishes the settings for the most efficient production cycle. This reduces the opportunity for operator error which in turn will reduce the amount of emissions from the cremation equipment, another win-win for everyone involved.

The M-Pyre system can be added to the most new and existing cremation systems for costs that are well within reason for most North American crematories. For more information, click here.



The “Greening of Cremation” Part III
August 12, 2010, 12:52 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

Opacity Controls
The last post stressed the importance of controlling the temperature in the secondary chamber. Closely related, another thing that keeps cremation equipment running clean involves monitoring the opacity of the final stack emissions. If everything is running properly and the temperature of the after chamber is on target at 1400˚F (670˚C), there should be no visible smoke coming from the stack. When things get out of whack, particulates increase causing the emissions to “thicken up” and become visible.

Opacity controls have optical sensors that can be positioned in the stack to watch for these excess particulates and give the operator a head’s-up when something is amiss. Some advanced systems can take corrective action adjusting the fuel/air mix and solving the problem sans an operator in a matter of seconds.  

The State of Florida recently adopted the requirement of opacity controls on all new cremation equipment beginning early 2007.  The good news is that these systems can be added to most existing and older designs for reasonable cost to the crematory owners.



The “Greening” of Cremation, Part II
August 11, 2010, 2:01 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

To continue the post from August 10th, we were examining how most modern cremation equipment is generally earth-friendly. If you are in possession of old equipment, especially the inline models devoid of a secondary chamber, little can be done to make it run as efficiently as the newer retort-style models with the hot hearth and high retention time. While it is best to upgrade to a newer system, there are a couple other tweaks that one can make. Whether your equipment is old or new, make sure you have adequate temperature controls.

Temperature Control
Adequate and steady control of the secondary chamber temperature of the secondary chamber is critical for the proper operation of cremation equipment. Too low and there will be unwanted emissions from the exhaust stack, too high and these unwanted emissions increase even more. So what is “just right”?

Extensive environmental testing conducted jointly by the USEPA and CANA, the Cremation Association of North America, proved to be invaluable in solving this debate amongst environmental professionals. The graph shown depicts results from over 1300 pages of a USEPA report on crematory environmental operations, shows clearly that 1400˚F (670˚C) is the ideal temperature. Emissions from cremation increased significantly when the secondary chamber temperature was increased from 1400˚F to 1600˚F (870˚C) and then increased again from 1600˚F to 1800˚F.

Temperature control systems, standard on most new cremation systems, can be added or adapted to older and existing cremation equipment for reasonable cost which will eventually pay for it in fuel savings.



The “Greening” of Cremation in North America Pt. I
August 10, 2010, 5:33 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

Global warming has been all the rage for quite a few years now, so if worries about the slow and steady increase in global temperature have not yet reached your ears, you may want to consider buying a radio or at least a subscription to a good newspaper. This phenomenon has been linked by many experts to the melting of the polar ice-caps, future extinction of animals and the loss of viable farming for the poorest of the poor.

Getting the word out on this potential threat and delivering calls to action have been through quite an eclectic group that one would not normally expect; politicians and preachers, environmentalists and economists, celebrities and CEOs, scientists and school kids.

The experts and scientists line up on opposing sides of this issue, filled with passion and armed with data. One side claims global warming is man-made, while the other assures it is a natural cycles of the earth as old as time itself. When you strip away the politics and posturing, all we are really talking about is making sure we keep the earth in good shape for future generations.

So what does this have to do with cremation? Well when you burn something, especially something like a carbon-based former life form that can contain chemicals, metals from fillings, artificial joints and other prosthetics, you can bet there will be concern about the final byproducts of its combustion.

Fortunately, North American cremation practices have long been considered environmentally friendly compared to other places around the world. This is due largely in part to the fact that most funeral homes are located in more densely populated city centers. With pressures to reduce smoke and odor to an absolute minimum, our drive to be good neighbors also made us good stewards of the environment as well.

Extensive testing by state, federal and independent agencies has shown time and time again that crematories operate well within the current environmental guidelines. United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) testing resulted in human and animal cremation equipment being eliminated from the list of industries that were covered by the new federal environmental regulations in 2005.

That’s great news, so the burning question now becomes “Should we do more?” Here at Matthews Cremation Division – our answer is a resounding “Yes!” So let’s discuss…

Retention Time
As most industry professionals know, residence (aka retention) time is the amount of time emissions from a cremation are held in the secondary (after chamber) of the cremation equipment. This is done to burn off as much pollutants and particles as possible before the emissions are released into the atmosphere. Suffice to say – the longer the retention time, the better the cleansing. Many states require cremation equipment to retain these gases ½ to 1 second. For most cases, this time is more than adequate.

Most new “hot hearth” cremation equipment designs can provide retention times up to 2 seconds or greater.  Longer retention time not only makes the emissions cleaner, but is also helpful when cremating overweight cases and when tasking cremation equipment to handle multiple cremations in a single day.

If you can’t obtain that kind of retention time because your equipment is obsolete, it’s going to be difficult at best to change anything.  Inline cremators (non-hot hearth) are notorious for high emissions as well as high fuel consumption. At this point, replacing your equipment is truly is your best option. 

Getting an entirely new cremator is going to take some time and money, however there are a few things you can do while you are getting your ducks in a row. Temperature control of the secondary chamber and opacity controls also aid in reducing emissions and they can be easily added to old equipment to help improve efficiencies to a degree. Stay tuned for the next installment to learn more.