Move to tackle a lack of burial space and environmental concerns over use of carbon dioxide
Being freeze dried and smashed into little pieces sounds like the stuff of sci-fi horror movies.
But it is one of two methods of dealing with our dearly departed that could soon be available from a funeral director near you.
And in keeping with sci-fi’s often chilling view of the future, the details are not for the squeamish.
The process – called promession, or cryomation – involves using liquid nitrogen to chill the body to -196c, leaving it so brittle that it can be ‘fragmented’ on a vibrating mat.
A magnet then removes metal objects such as fillings and artificial limbs, leaving a sterile powder – giving a whole new meaning to ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.
The second method is even more disturbing.
Known as resomation, it sees bodies placed in silk bags and submerged in an alkaline solution that has been heated to 160c. Flesh, organs and bones all dissolve under the onslaught, leaving behind a combination of green-brown fluid and white powder.
Imagining new ways of dispensing with the dead has long pre-occupied science fiction authors.
Soylent Green, released in 1973 and starring Charlton Heston, was set in an over-populated futuristic Earth where the processed food rations people eat turn out to be made from other humans.
Another classic 1970s sci-fi movie, Logan’s Run, with Michael York and Jenny Agutter, has survivors of a holocaust living in a domed city.
All must die when they reach the age of 30 by taking part in a Carrousel ceremony, where people are picked up by an invisible force and vaporised by an electric arc.
What promession and resomation share with these grisly endings is that they are being marketed as sustainable ways of disposing of bodies.
The average cremated body emits 573lb of carbon dioxide, while there is growing concern over the dwindling number of burial spaces.
Dozens of councils are understood to have expressed an interest in the processes, although at present only burials or cremations are licensed in the UK.
Cambridge council recently received a report from bereavement services manager Tracy Lawrence which recommended maintaining a ‘watching brief’ over the new methods.
Promession was invented by a Swedish biologist in 1999. The first promession facilities, known as Promatoria, are due to open later this year in the UK, Sweden and South Korea. The process has already been approved in six U.S. states.
Scottish firm Resomation Ltd is in talks with British authorities about introducing the funerals here.
Funeral services are a £2billion-a-year industry in the UK which has been expanding to offer alternative types of send-offs in recent years.
Proposals for the new processes will be discussed by Cambridge council on January 13.
But Simon Kightley, chairman of the community services scrutiny committee, said introducing them would depend largely on public opinion.
The crematorium has made £276,000 profit in the past five years but only picks up £44 per funeral service compared to a whopping £244 which can be charged by private operators.
Plans for a super-size cremator in Cambridge which could cope with wider coffins have been approved, while natural burials - in which bodies are interred at shallow depths in biodegradable containers - are already on offer.