What is Promession and How Does it Work?

This form of body disposition promises distinct ecological benefits

Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak
Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who developed the concept of promession. Photo © Promessa

Since time immemorial, human beings have buried their dead in the ground. Archeological evidence also indicates that people have cremated their loved ones since at least 11,500 years ago -- and probably well before that.

Promession (pronounced pro-mesh-ion), a relatively new concept of body disposition developed by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak (seen in the photograph above), theoretically offers some distinct "green" advantages over both of these methods in today's eco-conscious environment and could potentially become a significant body-disposition option in the future if promession gains acceptance and is implemented.

The Promession Process
Using specially engineered equipment, a deceased human body is sprayed with liquid nitrogen to cryogenically freeze the remains to a temperature of approximately minus 196° Celsius (minus 320.8° Fahrenheit), which crystallizes the body's cells.

After cryogenic freezing, the body is then mechanically vibrated for several minutes. This causes the frozen cells to disintegrate and reduces the cadaver to crystallized body particles, which are then collected for the next promession phase -- freeze-drying.

Placed inside of a vacuum chamber, the water within the crystallized body particles is removed through a process called sublimation. This freeze-drying procedure reduces the weight of the remaining body particles to approximately 30% of the deceased's original weight. For example, a human body originally weighing 70 kilograms (154.3 pounds) will result in approximately 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of body particles.

Next, the dry body particles undergo a process that removes any metals, such as mercury and dental amalgam (once commonly used in dental fillings), metals from surgical implants, sodium and more than 50 other "foreign substances."

Finally, the remaining body particles are placed in a biodegradable container made from corn or potato starch and then sealed.

This container, while not technically a casket or coffin, serves the same function but is engineered to enhance/control the interaction of the remains with air, water and microorganisms once buried in the ground, thereby facilitating the natural decomposition process.

The Benefits of Promession
Compared to burial or cremation -- the two typical forms of body disposition -- promession potentially offers several advantages in terms of ecological impact. Cremating a body relies on natural or propane gas to reduce a human body to bones through combustion. This results in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that can contribute to greenhouse gases, as well as the potential release of mercury vapor due to the amalgam dentists once commonly used to fill cavities in teeth. Promession, conversely, would result in no such harmful emissions.

In addition, unlike traditional ground burial, the promession process would reduce the demand on land-space. Burying the remains in the ground at a suggested depth of 30 to 50 centimeters (approximately 12 to 20 inches) would require significantly less burial space than that of a traditional casketed burial.

Moreover, the remains resulting from promession are completely organic and, including the biodegradable container, would not introduce chemicals, metals, concrete or other types of potentially harmful substances into the ground, resulting in a significantly smaller carbon footprint than that associated with traditional earth burial in a cemetery or memorial park. In fact, Wiigh-Mäsak estimates that promession remains will turn into humus (soil) in approximately six to 18 months as part of the natural environmental cycle.

The Obstacles to Promession
Presently, the promession process remains unavailable as a form of final body disposition anywhere around the world. Despite widespread media reports about promession and its potential eco-friendly benefits, it remains in a theoretical/testing phase and is unavailable to consumers.

On the website of Wiigh-Mäsak's company, Promessa, individuals can express their interest in the promession process (see below for link) as a show of support. As of June 19, 2015, a total of 1,981 people have done so worldwide.

Related Information:
VIDEO: Susanne Wiigh-Masak Discusses Environmentally Friendly Burial
Promession Definition
What is Alkaline Hydrolysis?
What is Green or Natural Burial?
The Promessa Website

"Promession: Introduction of Method," September 14, 2010. Promessa. Retrieved June 15, 2015. http://www.promessa.se/about-life-death

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