NASA Awards $125,000 Grant for 3D Printed Food on Long-Term Space Travels
May 21, 2013 1:32 PM
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Items on the menu include cricket pizza
Imagine exchanging recipes in the form of a piece of software instead of typed instructions on a website, and eating pizza with crickets on it instead of pepperoni.
This could be the future of long-term space travel, and even everyday life.
Anjan Contractor, who own Systems & Materials Research Corporation, has created a universal food synthesizer that
uses a 3D printer
to make food -- and he just received a six-month, $125,000 grant from NASA to create a prototype.
His prototype 3D food printer is based on a piece of open-source hardware called the second-generation RepRap 3D printer.
The universal food synthesizer would read recipes in software form, where instructions on how to make certain foods would be embedded. This software tells the 3D printer which powders to mix with which liquids.
The software will also be entirely open-source, so that others can look at the code and create recipes.
After the 3D printer "reads" the recipe, it uses a combination of powdered and certain liquid ingredients to make food layer-by-layer -- just like other 3D printed materials. Powdered forms of ingredients are used because they last longer.
“Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life,” said 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.”
Users of the universal food synthesizer can add the exact amount of proteins, carbs, etc. that they want for nutritional value.
Also, because meat is environmentally unsustainable,
the 3D printer
uses insects, algae, grass, duckweed, etc. for protein.
The first idea for the prototype is a pizza, where the printer would make a dough layer first, then a tomato paste layer and finally, a protein layer made of insects, plants or milk-based powder.
While this 3D printed food is mainly for long-term space travel right now, Contractor believes it could also have a place in every kitchen as the human population increases. Toward the end of the century when the population is expected to be around 12 billion, a universal food synthesizer could eliminate food waste and ensure that all 12 billion mouths are fed with balanced nutrition.
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5/21/2013 7:17:30 PM
Humans eat bugs all the time, some of this I found out recently, though never really thought about it.
When you eat wheat products, a lot of weevil larvae and other parts of bugs end up in the food you eat. It's estimated people eat about 1 pound a year without even realizing it is in the food you eat. When you sleep it is estimated you swallow about 8-12 bugs per year. If you ride a bicycle, motorcycle without face protection, you'll probably eat a few that way also. So, ingesting bugs aren't necessarily bad for you and we all eat bugs to some extent.
I don't mind if this method can produce a good hamburger without real meat, already we sort of do this with garden burgers, tofu burgers to replace meat but healthier and maybe tastes as good. If it can taste good and be healthier I don't think I'd really care what it consists of.
5/22/2013 9:44:32 AM
Once you get over the bug part, in theory at least, the purified protein should be indistinguishable from other forms of protein.
However, and this is a big one, the printed food, at least for now will have virtually no texture, or rather the entire meal would have the same texture. Think the difference between a real piece of chicken and one blended smooth and reconstituted. Also they'd have to add flavoring to the printing process, otherwise the purified base ingredients wouldn't have much of a taste.
There won't be chewy and crunchy parts, and printed cheese wouldn't have the same texture and taste as what we consider now.
Overall, this wouldn't be much different from eating the mush served on the ship in the Matrix movie, although the presentation would be better.
Still, it seems like interesting tech. It's fascinating to see what they are trying to accomplish with 3D printing now.
5/22/2013 12:04:02 PM
I am pretty sure the 3d printer would be able to do different textures, as it is not just molding it, it actually prints everything layer by layer. If it could not do this, you might as well just have the mush they had on the Matrix.
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