A mechanical engineer (awesomely) named Anjan Contractor has won a NASA grant to prototype a 3D printer for food — specifically pizza. It will lay down layers of food and flavor powder and melt them together; the powders are room-temperature stable for long periods and can be made from relatively abundant, sustainable foodstocks like insects and soylent green. He prototyped the concept with the 3D chocolate printer in the video above, and he holds out hope that food-printing could solve world hunger by allowing billions to feast on low-wastage, low-energy-input, low-carbon-footprint foods that are printed to order.
Contractor's printer is RepRap based, and is open source hardware; he promises to keep the plans open and free.
I suspect that there's a lot of nutritional subtleties lost when you turn food into processed elements that are recombined (in the same way that beta-carotene in carrots is reliably shown to have health benefits, while beta-carotene supplements are far more questionable). But as a form of food processing, it certainly is exciting!
Pizza is an obvious candidate for 3D printing because it can be printed in distinct layers, so it only requires the print head to extrude one substance at a time. Contractor's "pizza printer" is still at the conceptual stage, and he will begin building it within two weeks. It works by first "printing" a layer of dough, which is baked at the same time it's printed, by a heated plate at the bottom of the printer. Then it lays down a tomato base, "which is also stored in a powdered form, and then mixed with water and oil," says Contractor.
Finally, the pizza is topped with the delicious-sounding "protein layer," which could come from any source, including animals, milk or plants.
The audacious plan to end hunger with 3-D printed food
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