"I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can't supply 12 billion people sufficiently," says Anjan Contractor, a Senior Mechanical Engineer at Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) in Austin, TX.. "So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food."
Contractor's company, Systems & Materials Research Corporation (SMRC), just received a six month, $125,000 grant from NASA - NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program - to further develop a fully functional 3D printer for printing customized nutritious food for astronauts during long distance space travel.
Over the years, SMRC has been involved in a vast array of 3D printing and prototyping techniques, one of their innovative projects is 3D printed foods. SMRC has recently shown feasibility of 3D printed foods at a laboratory scale.
Contractor, a licensed Professional Engineer and Six-Sigma green belt with 13 years of experience in research, design, and prototyping, sees a future that every kitchen has a 3D printer and people could just create food from basic powdered ingredients. They 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." describes Contractor.
Once a cartridge is empty, it would be returned to the store. Since the cartridges would contain simply the powder of various different kinds of food, the inputs could be anything that contain the right organic molecules. And that would be the end of food waste, since Contractor's powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years.
Contractor's grant from NASA is for a space-oriented system that can print food for astronauts on very long space missions, such as going to Mars.
"Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life," says Contractor. "The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years."
So what kind of food is the best for 3D printing? - Pizza. "Because it can be printed in distinct layers, so it only requires the print head to extrude one substance at a time." Contractor will start working on his "pizza printer" in the next two weeks.
This pizza printer was a simple chocolate printer based on open-source hardware from the RepRap project - RepRap Mendel. It works by first "printing" a layer of dough, which is baked at the same time it's printed, by a heated plate at the bottom of the printer. Then it lays down a tomato base, "which is also stored in a powdered form, and then mixed with water and oil," says Contractor. Finally, the pizza is topped with the delicious-sounding "protein layer," which could come from any source, including animals, milk or plants.
Contractor also plans to keep the software his 3D printer open-source so anyone can tweak recipes or find more creative use for his food printer. His eventual goal is to turn his system for 3D printing food into a design that can be licensed to someone who wants to turn it into a business.
The ability to 3D print food would be convenient. If successful, the 3D food printer would not only provide astronauts food for space travel, but could also become a common household for food preparation. As the technology advances it could be adopted by unusual environments in space and on Earth where people have special nutritional needs.
Posted in 3D Printers
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Glitch wrote at 5/21/2013 9:24:28 PM:
Watch out for the Soylent Green layer
CornGolem wrote at 5/21/2013 7:54:55 PM:
"So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food." Degenerated minds at work.
Michal wrote at 5/21/2013 2:29:32 PM:
Food producers can already add whatever they want to their products and we dont even know what we eat. Buy beef lasagne and get horse meat... full of E something substances, geneticaly modified and who knows what. Thank you, I am not buying this, I prefer real and fresh vegetables.