3D food Printing a glimpse into the future of food preparation.

Posted on

The future of breakfast might just be a surprising one: 3D-printed food. While most of us are used to popping a slice of bread in the toaster or boiling an egg, imagine using a cartridge in a printer instead. In a matter of minutes, you’d have a freshly printed banana and flaxseed muffin on your plate. This intriguing concept is getting closer to reality for the average consumer, thanks to a new breed of 3D food printers. According to Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University, “Food printing may be the ‘killer app’ of 3D printing. It’s completely uncharted territory.”Lipson, who has been researching 3D printing for nearly two decades, initially focused on printing materials like plastics, metals, electronics, and biomaterials. His journey into 3D food printing emerged from his work on printing fully functional 3D robots. These robots were envisioned to “walk off the printer,” a complex feat requiring the printer to work with multiple materials simultaneously. While experimenting with multi-material printers, Lipson observed something intriguing in his lab. Students began using food as a test material, experimenting with ingredients like cookie dough, cheese, chocolate, and other everyday items in an engineering lab. What started as a playful endeavor soon sparked genuine excitement.

There are two primary approaches to 3D food printing. The first involves using powders bound together during printing with a liquid, such as water. The second, the approach favored by Lipson’s lab, employs extrusion-based printing. This method utilizes syringes to deposit gels or pastes according to a software-generated “recipe.” Lipson’s prototype includes an infrared cooking element that cooks specific parts of the printed product at designated times. The team experimented with various materials, ranging from conventional ones like eggs, flour, and cheese to more unconventional choices like pesto and jam. They even collaborated with a culinary school in New York to push the printer’s limits. While cream cheese proved easy to print, materials like polenta and beets presented engineering challenges due to their granular nature. Another challenge in 3D food printing is understanding how different foods will behave when combined. Mixing ingredients introduces complex behaviors, which need to be considered in the printing process. Determining when and how to cook each component during printing is vital. For instance, when printing a structure with salmon and mashed potatoes, each element requires different cooking times and temperatures. To address these challenges, the team is developing software that predicts the final product’s appearance after cooking. Lipson’s 3D food printer stands out because it can simultaneously handle multiple ingredients and cook them during printing. He envisions two main applications for consumers: specialty cooking appliances that can create intricate dishes designed by experts worldwide, and personalized nutrition based on individual health metrics.

While Lipson doesn’t foresee 3D food printing replacing traditional cooking methods, he believes it will revolutionize the kitchen. “Cooking is one of the things that hasn’t changed for eternity. We still cook over an open flame like cavemen. The software has permeated almost every aspect of our lives except cooking. The moment software enters any field, it takes off and usually transforms it. I think that food printing is one of the ways software is going to enter our kitchen.”

Emily Matchar. Innovation Correspondent. 3D Print Your Breakfast.

Could insects hold the key to sustainable materials for 3D Printing?

Posted on

The future of 3D printing might just involve an unexpected ingredient: insects. Many of us share growing concerns about the mounting plastic waste. Plastic waste comprises a mishmash of filament scraps, support materials, failed prints resembling spaghetti, and more. The presence of discarded plastic objects poses a looming threat: the eventual creation of microplastic pollution. Over time, remnants inevitably break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Although some of this disintegration may occur in landfills, a more worrisome scenario unfolds in the ocean. Ocean currents carry these microplastics across vast expanses, disseminating them throughout the marine food chain, thus magnifying the environmental crisis.

In light of these concerns, an array of new 3D printing materials is under exploration—ones that are both functional and biodegradable. The focus here is on materials that, after their use and disposal, will naturally decompose into harmless chemicals, a stark contrast to the predominantly persistent 3D print materials of today. Among the various materials being scrutinized, there’s an unconventional contender: insects. A forthcoming research paper to be presented at the upcoming fall meeting of the American Chemical Society will unveil a fascinating breakthrough. The researchers have successfully crafted functional bioplastics from chitin, sourced from deceased black soldier flies. These flies play a vital role in farming larvae used for animal feed and waste management, which inevitably results in substantial quantities of fly carcasses. The researchers devised efficient methods to extract chitin from these fly remains, purifying it into a polymer they’ve aptly named “chitosan.” Chitosan can then be molded into various plastic products, including a highly absorbent hydrogel.

While hydrogel may not be an ideal 3D printing material, the research team aims to leverage chitosan to develop more versatile bioplastics that could closely resemble popular 3D print materials like polycarbonate. e and polyurethane, the latter being frequently employed in the casting process. It’s crucial to note that these findings are still in the realm of research and are at a relatively early stage. However, there’s a glimmer of hope that this type of research may ultimately yield practical materials suitable for desktop 3D printers. As mentioned by Karen Wooley, Ph.D., and Cassidy Tibbetts from Texas A&M University, imagine using insects as a source of chemicals to make plastics that can biodegrade later — with the help of that very same type of bug. That concept is closer to reality than you might expect. Today, researchers will describe their progress to date, including the isolation and purification of insect-derived chemicals and their conversion into functional bioplastics.

If this endeavor succeeds, we might find ourselves significantly less concerned about the endless stream of plastic creations emanating from these machines.

By on August 15, 2023. Chitosan Revolution: How Insects Could Reshape the Future of 3D Printing.