NASA Funds Food 3D Printer - Could it Catch on Here on Earth?
Kyle Maxey posted on May 22, 2013 |
food, NASA, printer, grocery, nutrition

In a forward-looking venture, NASA has given a six month, $125,000 grant to Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) to develop a fully functional food 3D printer for long space voyages.

"Long distance space travel requires [food that has] 15-plus years of shelf life," say Arjun Contractor, a senior mechanical engineer at SMRC. Today’s space food doesn’t have that degree of longevity, but Contractor and his team have an idea of how they can feed NASA’s interplanetary explorers. Key to their plan is 3D printing. Unlike traditional 3D printers, Contractor’s machine will use powders and oils to build meals layer by layer in a manner that is similar to FDM 3D printers.

And while NASA is funding research into a space-based food printer, Contractor also sees a much more down to Earth reason for developing this technology. “"I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can't supply 12 billion people sufficiently… So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food."

To this end, Contractor sees homes across the globe being outfitted with food 3D printers that can provide "customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time", from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store."

According to Contractor’s plan, once a cartridge is empty, a user can simply return it to a store where it can be refilled with any ingredient, essentially ending food waste.

But even though we have an idea of how we can store and preserve food for an extended period of time, you still have to consider how it will presented.  So what food analogue is best for a 3D printed cuisine? Arjun answered pizza, “because it can be printed in distinct layers, so it only requires the print head to extrude one substance at a time."

Food 3D printers may allow people to explore new methods of cooking, new textures and new flavors, but I still have one question: Will 3D printed food ever catch on outside of a NASA capsule?

I think it’s doubtful, but I still love the idea.

Watch a Video About the Technology:

Images and Video Courtesy of TNO Research  

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