The current gas crisis is causing problems for crematoria in Germany. Large quantities of the increasingly expensive raw material are needed to cremate the deceased. A crematorium in Rhineland-Palatinate shows how things can be done differently.
Karl-Heinz Könsgen is a little proud. Not only of the fact that he is managing director of the largest crematorium in Germany. His crematorium has made it: at the beginning of August, two cremation units went into regular operation there that can be operated almost without natural gas.
Sure: earning money from the death of other people sometimes leaves a strange feeling. But Könsgen also sees his job as making the death of a loved one as easy as possible for the bereaved and supporting them in one of the most difficult moments of their lives.
Könsgen could not imagine that he would have to worry about his gas bill at some point in the future, until six months ago, he says in an interview with ntv.de. Since the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine, things have changed. “We have just signed a new contract with our gas supplier. Our gas bill will increase sixfold from January 2023,” he reports.
“House with open doors”
The crematorium and cemetery Könsgen manages are located in Dachsenhausen, a hamlet with a population of less than 1,000 in the western Hintertaunus region of Rhineland-Palatinate near Koblenz. He calls his crematorium a “house with open doors.” He wants to show how a modern operation of this kind works. More and more people are taking advantage of this offer, from relatives of the elderly to school classes.
Crematoria are becoming increasingly important: according to a report by the German Press Agency, 75 percent of German citizens have now opted for cremation after their death.
Cremating or cremating – that’s what the experts call the process, which is popularly known as “burning”. Important in this process are fireclay bricks, which become very hot and retain heat for a very long time. They are located in the cremation facilities and provide the necessary heat. The more bricks, the hotter the equipment can get and the longer the heat can last. During cremation, the system is first started, which takes about two hours. Then the coffin with the deceased is pushed in and the cremation begins – at a temperature of 850 degrees.
At the Rhein-Taunus Crematorium, there are two types of facilities, which are of different sizes. Six of them are the usual size, you could find them like that in other crematoriums. They contain thirty tons of fireclay bricks. Of these six units, three are in use at the moment.
The other two units are huge. There, 88 tons of fireclay bricks each provide the necessary heat. Although these plants are more expensive to build, they consume significantly less energy because they can retain heat for much longer than their smaller sisters.
High energy demand
Many crematoria operate regionally. They are not large. They have less than half a dozen cremations a day. So their equipment has to be started and heated once every day. To do that, many of them need gas: up to 70 cubic meters, Koensgen says, each time they ramp up. So in a month, up to 1,400 cubic meters. This means that a single cremation plant consumes as much gas as a two-person household in a good quarter of a year.
For this reason, ecological crematoria have long been under consideration. In recent years, scientists have experimented with various ways to save gas. The bodies of the deceased should be decomposed in lye, their bones smashed before cremation. But there have been no really practicable solutions so far. In Germany, the very strict legislation is the main argument against it.
The Rhein-Taunus Crematorium in Dachsenhausen has therefore fallen back on a comparatively simple solution: “We simply don’t start our two large plants anymore. They run 24 hours a day,” says managing director Könsgen. “They’ve been running continuously now since the beginning of July.”
At the same time, the units operate almost without personnel. People are only needed to start the cremation process – and for constant monitoring. And above all, just three cubic meters of gas are needed for the startup process, barely one-twentieth as much as in conventional plants.
But even the two units in Könsgen’s company don’t run entirely without gas. Every now and then, they have to be shut down and restarted for maintenance purposes. Nevertheless, Könsgen no longer seems to be really afraid of the gas crisis. Since last Monday, his two gas-saving units have been running in regular operation.
In the meantime, other crematorium operators have also become aware of the idea. He has already talked to about two dozen interested parties about it, he says.
Even if less gas is consumed with this process: Survivors could soon face higher costs for cremation. Because the conversion will be expensive for the 160 crematoria that exist in Germany. And for small municipal crematoria, the solution from Dachsenhausen is out of the question anyway. They will have to switch to liquid gas or electric systems.