NASA is funding research into 3D printed food which would provide astronauts with meals during long space flights. The futuristic food printers would use cartridges of powder and oils which would have a shelf life of 30 years.
While the idea may seem like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, the process of printing food has already been proven possible. The brains behind the innovation, Anjan Contractor, previously printed chocolate in a bid to prove his concept.
Anjan Contractor’s company, Systems & Materials Research Corporation, just got a six month, $125,000 grant from NASA to create a prototype of his universal food synthesizer. Contractor and his company, will now use NASA’s $125,000 grant to attempt to…. PRINT AN EDIBLE PIZZA! The grant was applied for on March 28th, 2013. Reportedly, the pizza printer is still in the conceptual stage and will begin to be built in two weeks.
But Contractor, a mechanical engineer with a background in 3D printing, envisions a much more mundane—and ultimately more important—use for the technology. He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store. Contractor’s vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store.
The printer will first print a layer of dough, which will be cooked while being printed. Tomato powder will then be mixed with water and oil to print a tomato sauce. The topping for the pizza will be a “protein layer” which could come from any source – animals, milk, or plants. The concept is to use basic “building blocks” of food in replaceable powder cartridges. Each block will be combined to create a range of foods which can be created by the printer. The cartridges will have a shelf life of 30 years – more than long enough to enable long-distance space travel.
Contractor and his team hope the 3D printer will be used not only by NASA, but also by regular Earthlings. His vision would mean the end of food waste, due to the powder’s long shelf life. There are some conveniences which would come along with the printer. For example, recipes could be traded with others through software. Each recipe would have a set of instructions which tells the printer which cartridge of powder to mix with which liquids, and at what rate and how it should be sprayed.
Another perk includes personalized nutrition. “If you’re male, female, someone is sick—they all have different dietary needs. If you can program your needs into a 3D printer, it can print exactly the nutrients that person requires,” Contractor said.
Many economists believe that current food systems can not supply 12 billion people with food security efficiently. This pizza printer is trying to change that number through this NASA grant.