The Process of Promession | Promession |

As we know, death is part of our existence and culture as is the way we dispose of the deceased. While cremation has been apart of certain cultures for years, it wasn’t accepted in America until very recently. The traditional practice of cremation has recently, within the past two hundred years, become accepted in the United States. It is now generally viewed as the more economically and ecologically favorable method for the disposal of the deceased. However, one biologist was skeptical of that supposed eco-friendliness and decided to create something “better”.


The promession process basically consists of freeze-drying a body and reducing it to small granules. This process is claimed to be the most environmentally friendly method for disposition yet. It was created by and patented by a Swedish biologist named Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who has had a fascination with science and gardening since she was very young. She became extremely interested in composting and was shocked when she realized that the traditional method for burial was not as eco-friendly as once believed.


Traditional burial methods entail placing a deceased body into a casket, and placing it a certain depth underground. This method has been claimed to return nutrients and minerals from the body back into the Earth. Wiigh-Masak claims that in order for something to properly compost and return nutrients back to the earth requires proper decomposition. Proper decomposition requires the same conditions that sustain life, including appropriate moisture and temperature levels. This is vital in returning nutrients back to the earth that can replenish the soil because those conditions allow the substance to properly break down to the appropriate nutrient level. Wiigh-Masak claims that those conditions are lacking in traditional burial methods. She says that in traditional burial methods, the body begins to rot rather than properly compost. This means that all of the body’s nutrients and other substances are returned to the earth, but they are not returned in the proper form that will allow the nutrients to enrich and replenish the soil. Wiigh-Masak set out to find a method that would.


Promession is claimed to be environmentally friendly because the process returns nutrients from the body back to the earth, through proper compost. The process entails 6 steps. First, the body is frozen to -18 Celsius through a basic mechanical freezer. This can take anywhere from two days to one week. Once the body reaches the desired temperature, it is placed into a coffin and then lowered into a pool of liquid nitrogen. This is designed to cool the body down to -196 Celsius in order to make the body very brittle, firm and stiff. Once the body and coffin have reached the desired temperature, they both are exposed to a specific amplitude of vibration and light. This transforms both the casket and body into an organic white powder, which are the remains. Next, the powder is moved into a vacuum chamber. In this chamber, all moisture and water is evaporated cleanly and dispersed into the atmosphere as clean, natural steam. The dry powder then passes through a series of electrical currents that are designed to remove all metals, including mercury, from the powder. The extracted metals are then placed in special containers and sent to be recycled properly. What is left is a dry powder residue that will typically weigh about 1/3 of the person’s original weight. This dry powder mixture is then placed into a biodegradable container, typically made from maize or potato starch. This “coffin” is placed shallowly, approximately ½ a meter deep, underground and buried. It is suggested that a plant or tree is planted by the burial site. This allows those nutrients to be taken up by the plant. This creates an urn in a way by storing the nutrients from the body in the plant or tree. Typically, in 6-12 months time, all of the remains and the coffin itself will be decomposed properly, returning all nutrients back to the earth, which will replenish and nourish the soil.


However, critics are skeptical of the process. Some claim that it is just unrealistic and outrageous. A spokesperson from Fonus, one of the most popular nationwide funerary service companies in Sweden, said, “This method does not exist in the world, it is only a paper product, just an idea and it is a pity that it has been written that it exists.”


Currently, the practice is waiting for legal permission to proceed. Promessa currently has 12 bodies waiting in the freezing room. While legality is waiting in Sweden and Scotland, it is still entirely illegal in all other parts of the United Kingdom. There are many organizations looking to change the legality of the process. Prolifera is a non-profit organization looking for people to join in order to show their belief in the right to choose their method for disposition. However, there are some parts of the world that do permit the practice. South Korea has apparently ordered many Promator Units, the machinery used in the Promession process, according to Promessa UK. In the United States, the practice is currently illegal.