Burning Bodies… Going Solvent Green
In Durham, England, corpses will soon be used to generate electricity.
A crematorium is installing turbines in its burners that will convert waste heat from the combustion of each corpse into as much as 150 kilowatt-hours of juice — enough to power 1,500 televisions for an hour. The facility plans to sell the electricity to local power companies.
Some might find this concept creepy. Others might be pleased to learn that the process “makes cremation much greener by utilizing its by-products,” in the words of cremation engineer Steve Looker, owner and chief executive officer of the Florida-based company B&L Cremation Systems, which is unaffiliated with the Durham enterprise.
In Europe, tightening regulations on crematorium emissions, coupled with the high price of energy, will lead more and more facilities to go the way of Durham in the future, Looker said. Will crematories in the United States follow suit?
According to Looker, whose company is currently testing different methods of utilizing cremation waste heat, the expensive turbine systems being installed in Durham are not yet economically viable for crematories here. “In the U.S., most crematories don’t have enough throughput,” he told Life’s Little Mysteries. “Cremation in some parts of Europe is over 90 percent, but it is not over 50 percent yet here.” That is, less than half of Americans opt for cremation. Most are buried.
Consequently, while burners in Europe typically run 24 hours day, ones in America operate only eight hours each day, Looker said. “A typical turbine system would cost somewhere between $250,000 to $500,000. If it’s running 24 hours a day, that’s a five-year payback. If it’s running eight hours a day, that’s a 15- or 20-year payback, which isn’t feasible,” he said.
However, Looker is hopeful that the situation could change in the near future. “Over the next 10 years, with the baby boomers coming through, cremation is going to reach 75 to 80 percent. Then, this might be feasible.”
Furthermore, a turbine designed by a company called Thermal Dynamic Engineering, which produces just 50 kilowatt-hours of energy but is much less expensive to install than the Durham system, will be available in the near future, Looker said.
Thus, it may indeed come to pass that deceased baby boomers will someday help power your household appliances.