“When I saw this about four years ago, my reaction was this is our industry in the future,” Mark Riposta said of his newest method of cremation — alkaline hydrolysis.

Riposta, of Direct Cremation of Maine in Belfast, purchased a “flameless” cremation unit a few weeks ago that is a low pressure, low temperature unit, the only one of its kind available for public cremations in the United States.

“We’re it in the country. The first one is in Searsport, Maine,” he said.

Low pressure, low temperature units have been in use at research hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, for years, Riposta said, and have also been in use to cremate pets.

High pressure, high temperature units are currently being used in Florida, Riposta said. He chose the low pressure unit for its ease of use and “for safety reasons.”

“It takes longer but the process is the same,” he said. “It’s 100 percent safe.”

The unit uses a combination of water, potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide to speed breakdown of soft tissues and the chemical solution is based on weight.

“What we’re doing in the 12-hour process in a natural decomposition,” Riposta said, adding nothing is left behind at the end of the process but sterilized bones.

Bones are then returned to the family as “ash,” he said. Water used in the process is safely discharged into the wastewater system in Searsport, where the crematorium is located, after being treated with carbon dioxide to neutralize the alkalinity, Riposta said.

“We meet or exceed every regulation,” he said. “…Everything is going green, if not by choice, maybe by regulation…I believe this is the right choice for families that choose cremation and the right choice for the environment.”

Less energy is expended during flameless cremation than during flame cremation, and emissions are also less, according to a brochure provided by Riposta.

“There’s nothing going into the air and there is a 90 percent less carbon footprint than with [flame] cremation,” he said.

To run the flameless cremation unit, Riposta uses two 9-watt electric heaters to heat the water from 180 degrees — incoming water first goes through an on-demand heating system — to 208 degrees. The unit uses just 55 gallons of water due to its ability to be shifted from a horizontal position to a vertically-angled one, Riposta demonstrated last week.

For those concerned about the dignity of the process, Riposta describes the action of the unit as being more like a “dishwasher, not a washing machine.” There is no agitation involved in the process, “a combination of water flow, temperature and alkalinity are used to accelerate the natural process,” the brochure states. Riposta noted human bodies are largely composed of water.

To begin operating the new unit, the only officials Riposta had to address were members of Searsport’s Water Board. All state and town permits already were secured by then, he said.

“Maine is one of 17 states that allow the process by definition,” he said, adding some states have opted to not allow alkaline hydrolysis. For the process to be used in Maine, a wording change at the state level was required — to add “, or chemical” to the definition of cremation, Riposta said.

“It’s different, but it’s not wrong, it’s not bad,” he said. “This is the future.”

Flameless cremation costs more than flame cremation — $1,995 versus $995, on average — largely due to the initial investment in the unit, Riposta said.

“People won’t choose [flameless cremation] based on cost. They will choose it because of environmental reasons. People that take reusable bags to the grocery store, recycle, etc., will choose this process,” he said. “…The process is much more environmentally friendly.”

Upkeep on the unit is expected to cost much less than flame cremation units, as there are just two parts that need to be replaced regularly, compared to numerous parts that can be damaged by intense 1,700 to 1,900 degree temperatures during flame cremation, Riposta said. All units, flameless or flame, are regularly inspected and flame units’ emissions are regulated.

“There’s not a negative to this process,” he said, adding he has been fielding questions about flameless cremation for about three years. In the time since the unit was installed in March, four families have chosen flameless cremation, Riposta said.

For more information about flameless cremation, contact Direct Cremation of Maine by calling 338-1433.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected April 12 to correct a spelling error.