The Cost of Cremation

Earlier this week I came across this article on how the State of Hawaii is now poised to become the 22nd state of the United States that will legalize alkaline hydrolysis.  I’ve said before that even though it has been since 2003 that the first state in the country legalized alkaline hydrolysis — that’s almost two decades ago — I believe that the process has been proven and many of the rest of the fifty states will soon follow suit with legalization.

A couple of the reasons I think that way is that first of all as the process becomes more universal – as it will soon be in 22 states — there is less to prove about the process moving forward and the rest of the states can see the track record that has been laid down by the pioneers of alkaline hydrolysis.  Another reason is that compared to flame cremation, alkaline hydrolysis seems to be a more energy efficient and greener platform and, regardless of your own reasoning, that way of thinking is appealing to more and more people all the time.

I’ve always had a hard time figuring out the cost of flame cremation on a per cremation natural gas price basis.  At the funeral home I operated we cremated using natural gas but the building was also heated using natural gas so the breakout was not easy to figure.  I did come across this article, however, from the Brussels (Belgium) Times that makes the case that because of the natural gas prices of today cremations in Belgium have became increasingly expensive.

It’s an interesting article that states Belgium did approximately 74% cremations in 2020 – up from 62% in 2019.  The increase, according to the article happened during the Covid-19 pandemic when burial costs were “elevated”.

As for my extrapolating about natural gas cremation prices.  The article states that the Robermont crematorium in Liege, Belgium, cremates about 3,700 bodies per year.  Converting Euros (as are mentioned in the article) to U.S. dollars the crematorium has seen an increase in energy from 2021 to 2022 from a cost of $9,487 per month in 2021 to $37,951 per month in 2022.  That is not surprising since we are all aware of the European natural gas uncertainty caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

3,700 cremation cases per year would work out to about 308 cases per month.  Using the crematoriums energy bills — although just like my funeral home we cannot deduce that the “energy” is just for cremations and not for the overall building.  However, we can still take the total amount of the “energy” bill and divide by the number of cremations to see what the “total facility cost of energy” is per cremation.  Using the numbers given in the article, the 2021 unit price (again using U.S. dollars) would have worked out to $31 per cremation while the 2022 unit price would have exploded to $123 per cremation.

Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

If those numbers are correct — or even close to correct — the increase in natural gas pricing of $92 per cremation would total an annual increase in costs to a crematory of $33,580 if that crematory simply did one cremation per day.  I also checked for Minnesota, and while not as drastic as Belgium, natural gas prices have went up from $7.08 to $10.18 per thousand cubic feet from January 2021 to January 2022.  That is a still a whopping 44% increase in the price of operating your crematory.

And, while the mathematical deduction of “energy price per cremation” is not an exact figure because I don’t know what else the “energy cost” supports, I would argue that there is enough knowledge in the figures to somewhat quantify that the natural gas price used on a cremation has risen — and maybe drastically.

Now, let’s look to alkaline hydrolysis, many times called Green Cremation or Water Cremation.  My research indicates that electricity is what generally powers alkaline hydrolysis.  I also researched and was told that a human case of alkaline hydrolysis takes about 90 kWh units of energy and that in Minnesota the average kWh costs about 15 cents.  That would put alkaline hydrolysis at a per unit cost of less than $15.

So, again I will tell you that my math is not perfect because of the “assumed” variables I have had to use. . . . However, at least with elevated natural gas prices, it does seem to show that alkaline hydrolysis — excluding the chemicals that may be needed — does seem to be quite a bit less expensive to operate at this time.

Related:  If you want to learn more about both flame cremation and alkaline hydrolysis here’s your chance.  Our friends at the Cremation Association of North America are back to holding an “In-Person” seminar on Wednesday, June 8 in Illinois.  Here’s what they say that the seminar will entail:

The CANA Crematory Operations Certification Program™ (COCP™) ensures that you and your employees have the most current crematory operations training available in the industry and provides proof to the public of your commitment to safe cremation practices that demonstrate the utmost respect and caring for their loved ones. The content of this course is designed to increase your understanding of crematory operations—both flame and alkaline hydrolysis—and will provide you with a solid overview of best practices.

To learn more or register click here.

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1 Comment

  1. Ed Gazvoda on May 13, 2022 at 10:52 am

    Fireless Cremation’s alkaline hydrolysis 2.0 process requires chemicals to breakdown fats, achieve complete dissolution in @ 3 hours ( no brain, marrow, nor fat remaining), lower the pH to neutral, and ready the body to be beneficially return the body to the earth or sea – not the sewer. The chemical cost is @ $1.14 per pound of decedent. Water is required at only @60% of the weight of the deceased, @8 gallons compared to 300 gallons with other systems. The hidden cost with aquamation systems is the refusal of wastewater treatment systems to accept the effluent. The high biological oxygen demand placed on a wastewater treatment plant in Colorado resulted in an upfront fee of $500,000 to continue dumping effluent and a per gallon dumping fee. The aquamation operator using just water and alkaline was unable to breakdown the fats, so they stopped operating their alkaline hydrolysis system. Those using the 1800’s chemical process could find themselves having to pay dumping fees. Fireless Cremation systems breakdown the fats, so our operators do not ever have to deal with brains remaining after the process nor pay onerous wastewater treatment fees.

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