NASA, those great engineers of tomorrow, just put $125,000 behind work intended to build a 3D food printer—a device that will be able to crank out “nutritionally-appropriate meals” from a mix of oils and powders, says Christopher Mims for Quartz. The money is going to a mechanical engineer, Anjan Contractor, who will build a prototype of the machine. “Contractor’s vision,” says Mims, “would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store.”
Laid down layer by layer using a waterless mix of carbohydrates, protein and nutrient, according to Contractor, the device should be able to make meals out of pretty much any source of these essential foodstuffs—plants, bugs, seeds, whatever.
NASA wants the printer for long-distance space flights. Waterless powders don’t go bad, and living in space you’d probably get sick of slurping soup out of a baggie. Pizza sounds much better:
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.
While a 3D food printer would be able to make food-looking food, the idea isn’t so far off from the mainstay futuristic projections of the early 20th century that said we were all supposed to be eating our food in pill form by now. Against that, we’ll take the “protein” pizza.
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