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Promession: an Organic Burial Process

Set to launch in Sweden next year and in Korea the following year, promession is an eco-friendly method of disposal for human remains based on freeze drying. It was invented (and patented) in 1999 by Susanne Wiigh Mäsak. The word ‘promession’ is derived from the Italian word for ‘promise’ (promessa).

Promession takes place in 7 steps:
1. The body is frozen to -18 degrees Celsius (normally this occurs between 24 to 48 hours) and then put into a sealed unit called a Promator.
2. The body is weighed to determine how much liquid nitrogen is needed to freeze the body to -196 degrees Celsius; 1kg of liquid nitrogen is required for 1kg of body weight. This process takes approximately two hours, and the liquid nitrogen evaporates into the atmosphere as nitrogen gas.
3. The frozen body is then moved onto a belt that gives off small (5mm) vibrations. This takes approximatey 60 seconds and reduces the body to particles.
4. The particles are then transferred into a vacuum chamber where water is evaporated and released into the atmosphere as steam.
5. The dry powder is then passed through electrical currents and magnets that extract any existing metals.
6. The existing residue, which is approximately a third of the original body weight, is placed into a biodegradable coffin, which can be lined with an iron net which will rust away.
7. The coffin is buried at a depth of about half a meter, and in approximately 6 to 12 months, the remains, the coffin, and the net will become part of the soil nutrients.

While the volume of remains left by promession is up to twenty times that left by cremation, heavy metals (for example, mercury from dental fillings) are filtered out instead of released into the atmosphere as pollutants so the procedure meets the requirements of the new European Union Industrial Emissions Directive, which imposes strict limits on air, soil, and water pollution.

The first ‘promatorium’ will open in Sweden and will process approximately 1,500 bodies per year and South Korea is building memorial parks to support the process as well. “This is going to be the future solution for Korea. Traditional burials as they are today may not be allowed in future, as most graveyards in the country are now running out of space… It’s really a good chance for the planet I think,” stated Wiigh-Masak at a recent funeral expo.

Currently, promession is not available in the United States, so Phaneuf Funeral Homes is unable to provide this service.

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