With nutritional status being central to success in battle, food technology has long been considered an enabler for military operations. Food technology has been instrumental in ensuring that troops remain “fit to fight”.
3D printing technology for food continues to advance. The 3D printing technology will be fundamental to the way people interact with food in the future. Supermarkets are already testing to 3D print customized cakes, restaurants are offering printed desserts. Some even claim that there will be a 3D food printer in every home in just two years.
Most food 3D printers use extrusion 3D printing technology, much like regular desktop FFF (FDM) 3D printers. Instead of using plastic material, though, food 3D printers use paste-type ingredients. The most common ingredients are chocolate, pancake batter and cream, although there are many other possibilities (even pizza!). They are 3D printed layer after layer, generally through a syringe-like extruder.
This technology uniquely offers customizability, which is as yet an unexploited advantage for fulfilling an individual’s preferences or specific nutritional needs. Application of this technology to military field feeding could in the future provide highly tailored ration components that meet the Warfighter’s real-time nutritional needs and preferences. Furthermore, placement of 3D printers on or near the battlefield could be logistically beneficial by reducing reliance on typical thermostabilized ration components, which have a mandated 3 year shelf life, and in which quality can degrade over time.
The Innovative Nutritional Formulations SBIR Program
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) opportunity inviting proposals for a new edible 3D printing material. Dubbed the Innovative Nutritional Formulations SBIR Program, the concept call aims to attract clever ideas for turning biomass (created through DARPA’s ReSource program) into safe and edible food products.
The biomass created from the ReSource program will be the backbone of the new Innovative Nutritional Formulations program, announced just last week. By converting (otherwise) useless biomass into palatable rations without the need for an entire factory, DARPA can help de-risk vulnerable supply lines while providing a secondary food supply for submarines, warships, and other expeditionary units.
DARPA’s ReSource program aims to combat this somewhat, as it’s focused on developing durable systems that can produce a variety of on-demand products using local materials and waste. These products range from water and basic foods to more functional materials like lubricants and adhesives – all in a bid to support remote units and humanitarian relief initiatives.
Food products generated from the ReSource program, in the form of cellular biomass are being
developed from organisms that utilize and persist on novel carbon sources. The objective
of this SBIR program is to bridge the technological gap that will allow these unpolished
food products to be integrated into existing and future 3D food printing technologies and
other platforms with similar minimal logistical footprints.
To accomplish this, technology needs to be developed to purify, modify, and individualize cellular biomass into novel formulations and form factors to support a range of dietary needs of populations in stabilization scenarios, both military and civilian. Successful proposers DO NOT need to be currently involved in the ReSource program.
The Agency has stated that the cellular biomass formulations must be compatible with at least one type of 3D printing technology, and can be in the form of a liquid, solid, powder, paste, or ink. Ultimately, the edible materials are designed to be used on the front lines and other disaster zones where traditional food may not be easily accessible to soldiers and civilians.
All proposed food technologies should be inherently safe for consumption and meet regulatory guidelines for food safety. Proposed workplans will entail processes to develop cellular biomass-based products into a formulation and factor of food that is visually appealing, edible, and palatable. Performers will also be expected to show technical progress toward this objective by accomplishing a series of readiness tests and a single challenge scenario. Every step in the proposed process will be evaluated against the topic criteria, the likelihood of passing food safety regulation, achieving an attractive taste profile and individualized nutritional need, and potential for downstream compatibility with 3D printing formats and other, low footprint, minimal logistical technologies.