We've heard about 3D-printed guns and a 3D-printed implant, but a new project is taking the use of these printing machines to a whole new level: 3D-printed food. Such is the goal of Anjan Contractor, who received a $125,000 6-month NASA grant to build a prototype. If successful, the resulting system would not only provide food for space travel, but could also provide sustenance in the future when the population is higher and presumably natural food sources become scarce.
Contractor, who is a mechanical engineer who specializes in 3D printing, owns the company Systems & Materials Research Corporation. In his view of the future, the average household's kitchen will be akin to that of The Jetsons, with a machine that creates food from basic powdered ingredients loaded in cartridges, such as oils and carbohydrate powders. The cartridges would be sold at stores, and would have a very long shelf life.
Because the cartridges would contain simply the building blocks of various different kinds of food, the amount of food waste would be greatly reduced due to the use of all the ingredients to create different meals. Once a cartridge is empty, it would be replaced. According to Contractor, the powders could be shelf-stable for three decades.
While that's Contractor's idea of what the future could hold, the grant is specifically space-oriented, with the goal being to print food for those who undertake long interstellar trips, such as going to Mars. Said Contractor, "Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life." His projected shelf-stable lifespan of the powders is twice that number.
What kind of food would result from 3D-printing? In this case, pizza. In the next two or so weeks, Contractor will start working on the creation of a 3D-printer that creates a pizza, the reason being the layer-by-layer nature of the dish, something that is easy for the printer to recreate. The crust would be printed first, followed by the sauce, then some type of protein. If all goes as planned, astronauts could one day print a hot pizza while in space, perhaps followed by college students holed up in a dormitory on finals week.