By Jenn Harris
1:02 PM PDT, May 21, 2013
A 3-D "printer" that can create an entire pizza using nothing more than various powders? Sounds like something from a Star Trek film, but it's actually a lot closer to reality.
Anjan Contractor, a senior mechanical engineer at Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) in Austin, Texas, is in the process of building a 3-D food printer with a $125,000 grant he received from NASA under its Small Business Innovation Research program, Quartz reported.
The idea is to create a prototype for a universal food synthesizer that will make food with an extended shelf life for space travel. Contractor has already created a food printer that prints with chocolate.
"The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form," Contractor told Quartz. "We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years."
Those powders could be made out of any number of materials, according to TNO Research, a firm that has outlined substances that can be used to create edible meals. Some of these materials include algae, duckweed, grass, lupine seeds, beet leaves and insects.
Pizza will be one of the first items printed because of its natural layers of ingredients. First, a layer of dough will be printed and baked at the same time using a heated plate at the bottom of the printer. A layer of tomato base will follow -- made of powder, water and oil -- then a protein layer will top the pizza.
Each meal will be made using customizable software, which Contractor wants to keep open source for sharing.
A pizza made of powders consisting of algae and insects may not sound appetizing, but it could help combat world hunger and dramatically curb food waste. Contractor said his ultimate plan is to have someone buy the technology and turn it into a business.
Who knows? Maybe in 30 years, each new home will be outfitted with a 3-D food printer instead of a microwave.