Imagine a world where 3D printers can produce not just plastic trinkets but actual edible vegetables. Well, two students in Qatar, Annan and Al Mansoori, have turned this futuristic dream into a reality. They’ve created a 3D printer capable of mass-producing vegetables like carrots using specially grown vegetable cells and UV light. In this article, we’ll delve into their groundbreaking invention, its implications for tackling food insecurity worldwide, and their vision for the future of 3D-printed food.
Students are Turning Vegetables into 3D Prints
Traditionally, 3D-printed food was limited to using vegetable or fruit purees, making it more suitable for individuals with eating disabilities. However, these methods were ill-suited for mass production. students Annan and Al Mansoori took matters into their own hands, building a 3D printer from scratch. They scoured the globe for the necessary components to create a machine that could 3D print carrots and other vegetables in an unprecedented manner.
Their innovation builds upon existing masked stereolithography technology, which employs UV light to set the “inks” used in printing. This novel approach allows for swift and large-scale printing compared to previous 3D printing techniques.
“[Our] technology supports mass production because it uses ultraviolet light. This type of printing has been done before using ultraviolet light with resin, but it’s never been done before using edible material,” explained Annan.
Despite the complexity of their project, Students Annan and Al Mansoori aim to make the technology accessible to the average person. They acknowledge the challenge of explaining their revolutionary concept without overwhelming people.
Addressing Food Insecurity
Qatar, like many nations, heavily relies on food imports. However, the country has been working to reduce this dependence and cultivate its food sources, which comes with its own set of challenges. Converting non-agricultural land into arable land is a costly endeavour. In response, the duo saw 3D printing and lab-grown vegetables as a potential alternative solution.
Using a process known as plant cell culture, they cultivate vegetable cells in sterile lab conditions. These cells are then used to create UV-sensitive printer ink, which the 3D printer employs to shape vegetables like carrots. The result? A 3D-printed carrot that is nutritionally equivalent to its conventionally grown counterpart, thanks to the careful replication of the soil’s environment in the lab.
The Future of 3D-Printed Food
While carrots served as their initial proof of concept, Students Annan and Al Mansoori have bigger plans. They aim to explore climate-specific and rare fruits and vegetables for 3D printing in the future.
Their invention couldn’t come at a better time. According to a recent United Nations report, an alarming 735 million people worldwide face hunger, with another 122 million pushed into hunger since 2019 due to factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and conflicts.
Concerns about the cost of 3D-printed food have arisen, but Annan and Al Mansoori argue that their method offers cost advantages. Since production doesn’t rely on vast agricultural land or high maintenance costs, they believe 3D-printed carrots can be more affordable. Annan noted, “Currently, 3 kg of carrots cost 15 riyals ($4.12). We can sell 3 kg of 3D-printed carrots for 10 riyals ($2.75), only for carrots. When we aim to go onto climate-specific fruits and vegetables, the price will be even lower.”
Their ultimate vision is to see 3D food printers integrated everywhere, from restaurants and supermarkets to hospitals. They aim to make food accessible to people all over the world, potentially revolutionizing the way we address food security challenges.