Via India Times:
In a scene right out of Star Trek, a Texas company is developing a 3D food printer for astronauts to create custom meals on the fly.
With support from NASA, the firm, Systems and Materials Research Corp of Austin, intends to design, build and test a food printer that can work in space.
“This project is to demonstrate we can create and change the nutrition of the food and be able to print it in a low-gravity environment”, the company’s research director and lead chemist, David Irvin, said.
Three-dimensional printers create solid objects by depositing droplets of material one layer at a time.
One of the first goals for SMRC’s printer is the humble pizza.
It was chosen because it contains a variety of nutrients and flavors, said David Irvin, director of research at SMRC.
More importantly, a pizza is made up of layers, a key principle used in 3-D printing technology.
Systems and Materials intends to create nutritionally rich, aesthetically appealing, and tasty synthetic food by combining powdered proteins, starches, fats and flavors with water or oil to produce a wide array of digital recipes.
All the ingredients are designed for extremely long shelf-lives, making them suitable for long stays in space.
“The 3D printing system will provide hot and quick food in addition to personalized nutrition, flavor and taste”, the company wrote in its proposal to NASA.
“The biggest advantage of 3D printed food technology will be zero waste, which is essential in long-distance space missions”, it added.
The project was presented at the Humans 2 Mars Summit in Washington earlier this month.
At the presentation, Anjan Contractor, an engineer at SMRC and the project manager, explained how the idea originated: he had used a 3-D printer to print chocolate for his wife.
The chocolate experiment led the company to think about other kinds of food that could be printed.
A space-food printer doesn’t actually exist yet — it’s still a concept, which the company hopes to develop by the end of the year using NASA’s grant money.
Ultimately, the company sees food printers as a way to help feed a world population that is estimated to reach 12 billion by the end of the century.
The technology may also have implications for the military.
“A 3D-printed food system can reduce military logistics, disposal waste, increase operational efficiency and mission effectiveness especially during wartime”, the company said.
“In addition, 3D printed food can provide optimal nutrient to the soldiers depending on their personal needs and level of physical activities”.
A Dutch research company, TNO, floated the idea that 3-D printers could use several forms of organic life as a protein component — algae, grass, or even insects.
Eventually Irvin sees a day when food printers will play a role in everyday diet and nutrition.
“The initial plan is to work with NASA and the astronauts and then as things become commercially viable, we will definitely consider weight loss and weight gain” applications, Irvin said.
The company’s six-month, Small Business Innovation Research study contract, worth up to $125.000, is pending, said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel.