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Could 3D printed food help eliminate hunger?

22 May 2013

Image courtesy of The Sugar Lab
Image courtesy of The Sugar Lab

A mechanical engineer employed by Systems & Materials Research Corporation, hopes to build a prototype 3D printing machine that works with basic nutrients.

According to Anjan Contractor, his idea could point the way towards a future in which hunger and food waste are virtually eliminated. 

NASA has given the company a six month $125,000 grant to continue the research, in a bid to look at new ways to feed astronauts on lengthy space missions. The space agency has put a number of plans forward for long distance crewed missions to Mars and near-Earth asteroids - trips that could use a physically compact food generator that could store ingredients for years at a time.

In an interview with Quartz.com, Contractor said: "Long distance space travel requires 15 plus years of shelf life. 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."

He believes that pizza is one of the simplest dishes to prepare, "because it can be printed in distinct layers, so it only requires the print head to extrude one substance at a time." He said he would begin building a ‘pizza printer’ in the next couple of weeks.

"[I see] a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the Earth's 12billion people feed themselves customised, nutritionally appropriate meals synthesised one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store." 

Contactor is currently trying to devise powder cartridges for his 3D food printer containing ‘sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block’ that would last as long as 30 years, meaning all the nutrients inside would likely be used up before they expired. 

3D sugar printing

Meanwhile, a new technique has been developed to take white sugar as a base material to print delicate 3D structures (pictured). According to a team from The Sugar Lab, the 3D printed food can be eaten on its own or used as a decorative topper for cakes. 

The company describes itself as a ‘micro-design firm for custom 3D printed sugar’. “With our background in architecture and our penchant for complex geometry, we're bringing 3D printing technology to the genre of mega-cool cakes,” said a Sugar Lab spokesperson. “3D printing represents a paradigm shift for confections, transforming sugar into a dimensional, structural medium. It makes it possible to design, digitally model and print an utterly original sugar sculpture on top of a cake. All of our projects are custom.”


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