If two Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers have their way, we could be printing our hamburgers and French fries from a 3D machine within five years.
Researchers at the Yissum Research Development Company, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said they have created a 3D printing technology that will be able to produce nutritious meals, for use in homes, restaurants and institutions, using nano-cellulose, a natural and edible calorie-free fiber. They have so far used their technology to “print” dough, but not a full meal.
The technology was to be presented for the first time on Wednesday at the 3D Printing and Beyond: Current and Future Trends conference at Hebrew University, and the researchers hope it will be the basis for a product on the market within the next two to five years.
The technology was developed by professors Oded Shoseyov and Ido Braslavsky, both of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Hebrew University. In a phone interview, they explained what 3D printing of food involves.
Imagine an espresso machine for whole meals. The technology relies on two basic elements: cartridges containing the meal’s ingredients — in powder or solution form — and hardware that applies heat and shapes the matter. The cartridges contain crystalline nano-cellulose as a core element, along with proteins, carbohydrates, fat, antioxidants and vitamins. Following individualized specs provided by the consumer on a 3D printer, the technology applies localized heat and shapes the raw material through infrared lasers.
Created through extraction from cellulose, the most abundant biomaterial on earth, nano-cellulose has a variety of technological and biomedical applications and is an expanding global market.
Unlike starch — which is commonly used in food to “bind” meals together – nano-cellulose has no calories and is easily degradable by the body’s enzymes.
Shoseyov and Braslavsky researched nano-cellulose for years in Hebrew University’s laboratories, publishing academic papers and experimenting with extraction methods. They developed a method for the extraction of crystalline nano-cellulose (CNC), which paved the way for their current project.
CNC “has zero caloric value when ingested by humans” and is healthy for the digestive system. Suspended in water with other food elements — in powder or solution form — in the cartridges the platform uses, the CNC naturally binds the meal together as the water is removed through heating, using infra-red laser and local heating that can replicate the effect of baking, frying and grilling.
“The binding property [of nano-cellulose] is essential,” said Shoseyov. “By controlling the amount of nano-cellulose and the amount of water [in the cartridge] we can determine the texture of the food.”
This level of control, they say, will enable their technology to produce food – even burgers – that taste just like they should.
“Printing food is an idea that exists,” said Braslavsky. “We are putting forward a completely new way to form this food.”
The solution can serve a variety of markets and populations, including the gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan markets, low-calorie diets and diets for people with diabetes, for athletes and more, the researchers said.
Braslavsky said that the food production process he is developing is not far from home food preparation, using real ingredients — as it is not being designed with shelf life in mind – and thus reducing the need for preservatives. The food will be able to resemble personal favorites – like a burger and fries – and also allow people to experiment with new forms of food.
Much of the research for the platform has been made possible by a grant from the Israel Innovation Authority. Yissum is currently in talks with investors to take the platform to the marketplace and has filed for a patent, said Shoseyov.
The researchers said they hope to have the first products in restaurants or institutions within two or three years, and in homes within five.
“The ability to automatically prepare, mix, form and cook personalized food in one device is a truly revolutionary concept,” said Yissum president and CEO Yaron Daniely in a statement.
“The idea is to enable full control of the substances used, for the purpose of creating healthy and tasty meals that can be eaten immediately. This has the potential to address a variety of challenges facing the field of nutrition, from the demand for personalized food for people with disease such as celiac or diabetes, personal nutritional habits such as vegetarians, to addressing the problem of lack of food in developing countries,” he said.
The Hebrew University conference will introduce a variety of 3D printing technologies and innovations by Israeli and international experts, both from the academia and industry. The conference is organized by the 3D & Functional Printing Center at the Hebrew University and Yissum, with the support of The Jerusalem Development Authority, The Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, and The Jerusalem Municipality.