NASA recently approved a $US125,000 grant for a six-month project to develop 3D-printed food, and the first edible prototype may be pizza, Quartz reports.
The grant was issued to Systems & Materials Research Corporation (SMRC), which plans to take on the larger task of making 3D-printed food easier to produce, especially for developing regions with limited access or resources.
NASA is interested in 3D-printed food technology for its benefits in space travel. In an interview with Quartz, SMRC senior mechanical engineer Anjan Contractor said the company hopes to develop 3D-printed food out of a powder material that could remain shelf-stable for up 30 years. If successful, SMRC could help bring NASA one step closer to a manned mission to Mars.
"Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life," Contractor told Quartz. "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."Pizza is a natural fit for 3D printing simply because it is composed of distinct layers, Contractor told Quartz. The dough, sauce, and cheese could be printed separately and carefully laid atop each other. Naturally, any other protein-based material could be added to make a more nutritionally balanced meal. Setting up the printer to lay the dough on a heated surface would make for a hot pizza, Contractor told Quartz.
SMRC already has a prototype capable of printing food in layers similar to the style in which pizza would be made.
The race to create 3D-printed food heated up last year after a University of Glasgow project successfully printed chemical compounds. A steadily increasing population, longer life spans, and the threat of global warming could make 3D printing the more sustainable and preferable method of cooking for future generations, Contractor told Quartz.
"I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can't supply 12 billion people sufficiently," he said. "So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food."
Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is email@example.com.
Read more about software in Network World's Software section.