Engineer Plans to Build 3D Pizza Printer with NASA Grant

By Wesley Fenlon

Anjan Contractor's powder-based 3D printing technology will potentially give base ingredients 30 year shelf lives, making them viable for astronauts going on long trips.

It should only take two words to sell you on the idea of 3D printed food: "Pizza printer." Back in February we wrote about how 3D printers could be used to create the space foods of the future. Cornell's Fab@Home printer is already on the way, as it's able to build simple foods out of hydrocolloids. Of course, we're still a long way from the Star Trek Replicator, but even NASA's paying attention to the prospect of 3D printed food. The organization recently handed a $125,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to Anjan Contractor to continue developing his prototype universal food synthesizer.

Star Trek's Food Replicator

Contractor's vision for 3D printed food is currently centered around space applications, but his eventual goal is to eliminate food waste here on Earth. "He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store," writes Quartz. "Contractor’s vision 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."

The Small Business Research Innovation grant, though, is for a 3D printer that could supply food to astronauts on long trips. The International Space Station would welcome a food printer, most likely, but trips away from Earth's orbit, like a lunar colony or an expedition to Mars, would obviously benefit more. Powdered nutrients with 30 year shelf lives would be enormously valuable to astronauts setting up permanent shop on Mars.

And then, of course, there's the the pizza printer. Quartz writes "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."

Contractor won his grant thanks to his prototype 3D chocolate printer, seen above. It's not the only 3D printer we've seen lay down some chocolate goodness layer-by-layer, but it's the first we've seen that may lead to a 3D pizza printer. Godspeed, Anjan Contractor.