Armed Forces engineers are exploring the culinary and nutritional possibilities of 3D printers
Known for its investment in developing cutting-edge tech, the US military is working to better prepare its wartime soldiers with the help of 3D printers. While many military scientists are striving to perfect 3D printed warheads and bio-printed human skin, a group of researchers is investigating another wartime use for the technology: printing food.
Lauren Oleksyk, a food technologist for the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, is leading a Combat Feeding Directorate research team in the search for the field applications of 3D food printing. During a recent visit to MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, team member Mary Scerra compared notes with researchers on the feasibility of printing food and its possible economic impact: “[i]t could reduce costs because it could eventually be used to print food on demand,” Scerra tells Army Technology Magazine. “For example, you would like a sandwich, where I would like ravioli. You would print what you want and eliminate wasted food.”
As of now, most concoctions from 3D printers are made from various pastes, which are easily adaptable for candy and dessert makers. The military team is experimenting, however, with ultrasonic agglomeration, which would bind food particles together by shooting ultrasonic waves at them and create different textures, Vice explains. This process could also allow military suppliers to create foods with a longer shelf life than that of current “Meals, Ready to Eat” (MREs), a mere three years.
The team further imagines that printers could contain nutritionally rich materials and supplement printed rations with vitamins and minerals based on a soldier’s individual needs: “[s]ay you were on a difficult mission and you expended different nutrients,” Scerra says. “[A] printer could print according to what your needs were at that time.” Another hope is that soldiers will be able to bring this technology with them into the field, helping to assure a healthy diet even when rations run low. Oleksyk speculates,
We are thinking as troops move forward, we could provide a process or a compact printer that would allow soldiers to print food on demand using ingredients that are provided to them, or even that they could forage for. This is looking far into the future.
Images: Natural Machines, Chris Hondros/Getty Images, SolarPix