COLUMBIA, Mo. - Growing interest in environmentally friendly burials has inspired a team of University of Missouri biological engineering students to develop plans for caskets made of biodegradable materials, including linoleum.

"Biodegradable caskets lack contaminants that would otherwise seep into the groundwater and surrounding ecosystems," said Ben Goldschmidt, a senior in biological engineering from Columbia.

The goal of green burial is to return the deceased and casket materials to the earth, where they can enrich the soil. Green cemeteries spurn vaults, tombstones and manicured lawns in favor of trees and native plants.

Goldschmidt and students Melika Allen of Lee's Summit and Julie Fitzler of Marilyn Heights, Mo., looked at existing biodegradable caskets made of wicker, pine, bamboo and recycled paper.

The MU students' design uses linoleum glued to boards of Biofiber, a composite material made from wheat straw.

"Linoleum is the perfect product," Goldschmidt said. "It is highly biodegradable, carbon-negative and offers aesthetically appealing appearances."

Linoleum caskets may be a tough sell because of the material's association with kitchen floors. Many people also confuse linoleum and vinyl flooring. True linoleum is made of linseed oil mixed with wood and cork flour, limestone powder and softwood resin.

Instead of metal handles, the caskets would have handles of three-stranded rope capable of supporting a 350-pound person.

The estimated cost-around $300-is far less than traditional steel or copper caskets.

"I think the project pointed out the true possibility for reducing pollution and saving energy," said Bill Jacoby, biological engineering faculty adviser.

The students suggested the use of an iodine-based solution for embalming rather than the customary formaldehyde- and methanol-based embalming fluids.

The students carried out the semester-long project for a biological engineering capstone course. Faculty design capstone courses to let students apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-life situations.