Feeding the Future: 3D Printing to End World Hunger?

3DfoodThe Systems & Materials Research Corporation, a 3D printing development firm, received a lot of attention after it became revealed that NASA had hired him (to the tune of $125,000) to develop a printer that could create pizza. Looking ahead to the era of deep-space exploration, NASA wanted something that could provide its astronauts with food that was tasty, nutritious, and not subject to a shelf life.

But to Anjan Contractor, the head of SMRC, 3D printing also presents a solution to a much more terrestrial problem: world hunger. He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store.

3dfood1Contractor’s vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years. Each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would therefore be fully exhausted before ever needing to be returned to the store. So in addition to providing for our daily needs, this process would also eliminate a massive proportion of the waste we generate on a daily basis.

In addition, the proliferation of food synthesizers is also likely lead to new and diverse ways of producing the basic calories on which we rely. Since a powder is a powder, the inputs could be anything that contain the right organic molecules. And with open source software, where people can upload and download recipes all the time, people will have a chance to get creative and expand the repertoire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd in addition to alleviating hunger, there is the added (and arguably bigger) bonus of relieving pressure on the natural environment. Already, environmentalists are gravelly concerned about the amount of land that is consumed every year by urban sprawl. But even more disconcerting is the amount of land, forests, wetlands, and natural habitats, that are consumed and destroyed by the need to farm food for these environments, and dispose of their waste.

And he is hardly alone when it comes to the concept of turning powdered ingredients and pastes into food. The Dutch holding company known as TNO Research, which owns several technology firms, has also been contemplating the possibilities of turning any food-like starting material into an edible meal. According to an outline provided by their researchers, 3D printed meals of the future could include any of the following “alternative ingredients”:

  • algae
  • duckweed
  • grass
  • lupine seeds
  • beet leafs
  • insects

As long as the biological properties of the base materials are appropriate – meaning they have the requisite carbohydrates, protein, fatty acids, etc – than it should be possible to synthesize just about anything.

3dfood2In addition, companies like Philips and institutions like MIT have been working on the concept of food printers for many years. In Philip’s case, this research led to the creation of the Diagnostic Kitchen program. This led to ideas for a Food Printer, which was inspired by the concept of ‘molecular gastronomists’, chefs who deconstruct meals and then reassemble it in completely different ways.

In much the same way, a Food Printer would take various edible ingredients and then combine and ‘print’ them in the desired shape and consistency. The nutritional value and relevance of what was being ‘printed’ would also be adjusted based on input from the diagnostic kitchen’s nutrition monitor. If, for example, you were trying to carbo-load for an athletic event, wanted to build muscle, or lower your cholesterol, you could tweek the levels of carbs, protein, or fatty acids to suit your needs.

MIT_3DprinterAnd there’s the Cornucopia,  a 3D printer that was unveiled by MIT’s gastronomy geeks back in 2010. Here, a series of refrigerated food canisters provide the food ingredients, which are then deposited into a built-in mixer which delivers concoctions that can be either heated or cooled thanks to a temperature controlled print head. A touch screen allows users to dial in what they want, and adjust ingredients to get the desired end.

Granted, there are those who won’t likely see this as an appetizing prospect. But as Contractor notes, that’s probably because they haven’t tried the high-end stuff yet. As the technology improves, attitudes about printed food products are likely to change. What’s more, he also believes overpopulation might add a little incentive to the mix:

I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently. So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.

Quite right. When the world is bursting at the seems and so many people are forced to live together in close quarters, hardly anyone is likely to raise a fuss about assembled food. Not when the alternative is an empty belly or a planet that will collapse from the weight of so much farming and waste. So if you’re the kind of person who likes their meat, veggies and fruits to be farmed locally and organically, you may want to consider moving to the country!

And be sure to check out this concept video produced by NTO that showcases the future of 3D printing, which of course includes food production:

qz.com, popucity.net, geek.com

The Future is Here: The Hyundai E4U Eggmobile

hyundai-e4u-640x353As the world’s cities continue to grow, and air quality and Climate Change continue to worsen, people will need to find cleaner and more effective ways of getting from point A to point B. One option which is being widely considered is personal transit: vehicles that are smaller, smarter, convenient, and more energy-efficient than automobiles. That’s the concept behind the Hyundai E4U Eggmobile, a personal vehicle that merges the convenience of a bicycle with a car.

Another important aspect of the Hyundai concept vehicle is to create a personal transport that will succeed where Mopeds, scooters, and Segways have failed. Though these vehicles are all perfectly good means of getting around, they have not made much of a dent in most major cities, which are still clogged with cars and have public transit that is choked by daily armies of commuters.

hyundai_e4u-640x592The Eggmobile debuted at the Seoul Motor Show this year, where Hyundai was amongst many other automobile makers that were presenting ideas for personal mobility vehicles (PMV). Amongst its advantages is the ability to maneuver in any direction, even though its motor only moves in one. This is made possible by the “semisphere” that the Eggmobile uses, which unlike conventional tires, can rotate in all directions.

When the top of the semisphere is touching and vertically aligned to the ground, the vehicle moves by rotating the semisphere horizontally. Meanwhile, the two rear-mounted training wheels prevent it from spinning uncontrollably. In order to move the vehicle in any direction without hindrance from the training wheels, the E4U simply tilts, much in the same way a helicopter works by tilting its rotors.

hyundia_e4UThe driver, meanwhile, propels the vehicle with their feet, inclining them this way or that in order to generate propulsion. The severity of the tilt determines how fast the vehicle is to go. If this sounds a bit complicated, that’s because it is. At the Motor Show, the demonstration model only moved at a walking pace and the early reports say controlling one will take some getting used to.

What’s more, Hyundai has not yet released the crucial info on what kind of fuel the Eggmobile uses. However, odds are good it is either powered by a clean burning fuel or electricity. Only time will tell. The same holds true of when Hyundai plans to release it, or whether they truly intend to spearhead a fleet of PMVs with this particular mobile. However, given the time and money they invested in this concept, it’s hard to imagine they only pulled it for a single auto show.

Sources: Extremetech.com, news.cnet.com


Killer Bee


A little bird has confided in me

That in your small carapace lies the key

And teaming masses yearning to live safely

Cry out as one for a demonstration

The good people at Caltech do their best

And make nanoparticles that will pass the test

To kill the viral cells, but leave the rest

Alive and without harmful depletion

And now, we think we’ve won the war at last

And so put an end to a harmful past

Killed the plague that infects the host so fast

And sentences death upon mutation

Alas, my friend, the good news comes too late

Such stories and demos, they will not slate

Our growing demands, or prevent the fate

That foretells of your gory extinction

Note: For those following the A to Z challenge, I apologize for the late posting of my entry for April 11th (or J day). Which is why I’ve posted both J and K today. And just in case you’re wondering what today’s entry is all about, it’s a tragic ode to the Bee, since it is now known that Bee venom is capable of killing HIV, but which comes at a time when the global Bee population is being depleted due to urban sprawl, pollution and loss of natural habitats.

And in keeping with my sci-fi roots, I wrote this poem as if it were dedicated from the near future, where the Bee population had become extinct and the chance for a cure for HIV effectively lost. It’s also written in iambic pentameter and has a rhyme scheme of AAAB, CCCB, DDDB, EEEEB. Hope you enjoyed it and were suitably depressed!

The Future is Here: The Air Scrubbing Skyscraper!

aircleaning_skyscraperAir pollution has always been a problem in urban centers. But with the massive industrialization and urban expansion taking place in some of the most heavily populated regions of the world (China and India being foremost), the issue of how to deal with increasing emissions is especially important. And more and more, researchers and environmentalists are considering options that hits air pollution where it lives.

Two such individuals are Danny Mui and Benjamin Sahagun, a pair of architects who have devised a rather novel concept for dealing with the thick layers of carbon dioxide pollution that are so common to major urban centers. In essence, it is a pair of buildings that scrub CO2 emissions from the air, and thus marries the concept of Carbon Capture technology to urban planning.

artificial_trees1Dubbed the CO2ngress Gateway Towers, the concept involves two crooked buildings that are outfitted with a filtration system. This system then feeds the captured CO2 to algae grown in the building which then converts into biofuels for use in vehicles. In this respect, it is not unlike the artificial tree concept designed by Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University.

Much like these “trees”, the carbon capture technology involves using a entirely natural process to absorb CO2 from the air and then combine it with water, thus causing a chemical reaction that results in a fossil fuel precursor which can easily be converted. This fuel can then be consumed as gasoline or ethanol, thus giving people the ability to keep burning fossil fuels while they research cleaner, more sustainable sources of fuel.

aircleaning_skyscraper3Ultimately, the idea here is not to offer a be-all, end-all solution to the problem, but rather to buy the human race time to clean up its act. And by ensuring that carbon capture technology is available in large urban dwellings, they are looking to ensure that one of the many symptoms of urban sprawl – i.e. large urban dwellings – are part of the solution.

Said Mui and Sahagun on the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) website:

The scrubbers are the first step in a process that generates fuel for a fleet of eco-friendly cars for building residents. The system raises public awareness of air pollution and its impact on the health of Chicagoans.

aircleaning_skyscraper1Aside from the scrubbers, the buildings boast some other impressive features to cut down on urban annoyances. These include the “double skin facade”- two layers of windows – that can cut down on outside traffic noise. In addition, the spaces on either side of the buildings’ central elevator core can be used as outdoor terraces for residents.

Apparently, Mui and Sahagun worked on the project while students at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where it earned them an honorable mention in the 2012 CTBUH student competition. According to Mui, they created the structure after the semester ended, but there are no immediate plans to build it.

aircleaning_skyscraper2However, given the growing interest in arcologies and urban structures that reduce our impact on the environment, it is likely to garner serious interest very soon. Especially in China, where air pollution is so severe that it causes up to 750,000 deaths from respiratory illness a year and cities are still growing, buildings like this one could easily become the stone that kills two birds.

Sources: factcoexist.com, bbc.com

Candidates for De-Extinction

Woolly Mammoth Replica in Museum ExhibitIt’s no secret that humanity’s success on this planet we call Earth has come at a high cost. Since our ancestors began migrating out of Africa some 70,000 years ago, their passage and settlement have left marks on the natural environment and its species. In short, our ability to grow has always meant extinction for other species, be they other forms of high-order primates (such as Neanderthals) or animals hunted for their pelts and meat (such as wooly mammoths).

In fact, the Neolithic Revolution, which began some 15,000 years ago with the adoption of farming, was believed to have been motivated by the mass extinction of animals that were once hunted by our ancestors. And since that time, countless more species have been pushed to the brink or killed off entirely by our ever-expanding, consuming, and polluting ways. However, recent innovations in biology and bio-medicine might just be able to reverse this trend.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Last Friday, at a at a National Geographic-sponsored TEDx conference, scientists met in Washington, D.C. to discuss which animals we should bring back from extinction, as well as the means and ethics involved in doing so. They called it “de-extinction”, and considered which species they would consider restoring to existence. The conference resulted in a list of 24 species that were selected for restoration, as well as some guidelines for the selection process.

Those chosen were based on the following criteria and future selections will be determined the same way:

  1. Are the species desirable — do they hold an important ecological function or are they beloved by humans?
  2. Are the species practical choices — do we have access to tissue that could give us good quality DNA samples or germ cells to reproduce the species?
  3. And are they able to be reintroduced to the wild — are the habitats in which they live available and do we know why they went extinct in the first place?

As you might imagine, dinosaurs didn’t make the cut. In addition to no longer serving and important ecological function, the habitats they once had access to are long gone (Earth’s climate and ecology have changed drastically since the Cretaceous Period), and most importantly, we no longer have access to their DNA.

TEDxDeExtinctionYes, despite what Michael Crichton told us, the DNA of dinosaur fossils is so far degraded that something like Jurassic Park would never be possible. And of course, despite being beloved by humans, they aren’t exactly safe customers to have around! But rest assured, the list of candidates is still very long.

Of the 24 species selected, the majority were families of birds which were pushed to extinction due to hunting, deforestation, urban sprawl, pollution, and loss of habitat. In addition, the famous Auroch, a species of cattle that is commemorated in myth but which actually existed until 1627. And then there’s the equally famous DoDo bird, the fearless bird which was rendered extinct by Portuguese settlers in its native Mauritius.

woolly-mammoth1And then there’s the venerable Wooly Mammoth, the great shaggy member of the Elephantidae family which went extinct some 4000 years ago. Not only is this animals demise directly associated with humanity’s ascendance to the top of the food chain, it is something which may now be entirely reversible. Thanks to frozen, preserved carcasses of Mammoths, which are still found in the north to this day, scientists have access to well-preserved strands of their DNA.

And as already noted, the issue of cost, ethics and desirability featured pretty prominently in the conference. For starters, those present had to consider whether or not it would be a good idea to bring animals back from the brink seeing as how it was human agency that led to their extinction in the first place. Is the world any better off than it was hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Would these animals find new purchase, or just end up dying off again?

sabre-tooth-tiger-_1117360cSecond, there was the question of housing them and reintroducing them into the wild. Not only is it a question of them being able to find habitats again, it’s a question of whether or not we can ensure the kind of transition that would be needed. Sure, we’d all love to see Sabre-Tooth tigers alive and well again, but its not like we can just clone them and send them back out into the wild. Who’s to say how their reintroduction will impact species that are currently roaming about in the wild?

And of course, there was the consideration of what all this tampering amounts to. Given that human agency is responsible for all this loss of life, would resurrecting them simply be more of the same? Would we be, in effect, playing God and tampering with forces best left to nature? All good questions, and they force us to consider an alternative proposition.

Perhaps what would be best for the natural world and its remaining species would be for us to stop behaving so irresponsibly. Perhaps we should focus on sustainable living, cleaning up pollution, ending climate change, and getting our own population under control before we start trying to repopulate other species. Still, it is an intriguing possibility, and provides some reassurance that no matter how much damage we end up doing, that we might be able to undo some after the fact. Perhaps we just need to wait…

Too bad about Jurassic Park though. In the course of everything else discussed at this TED conference, I’m sure that the announcement that dinosaurs were as good as gone shattered the dreams of many an eccentric billionaire!


Sources: businessinsider.com, nationalgeographic.com

Poalo Solari and the Birth of Arcology

Arcology: noun (plural arcologies) an ideal integrated city contained within a massive vertical structure, allowing maximum conservation of the surrounding environment. Origin: 1969: blend of architecture and ecology.

The question of what to do about Earth’s growing population – 7 billion and counting – and the environmental impact it is having has been on the minds of city planners, environmentalists, and global leaders for qu9ite some time. Far from it being a simple matter of determining how we are going to feed new every mouth we create, there’s also the question of how to provide for their other basic needs.

In the 20th century alone, humanity grew by multiplication factor of six. Cities expanded, suburban developments went up, and inner cities were “rezoned” and redeveloped in order to make room for them. When horizontal space became an issue, vertical structure were adapted, incorporating sky scrapers and massive high-rises. In addition, cities, counties and entire nations needed to find more sources of fresh water to address their health and sanitation needs, more landfills to accommodate waste, and more green spaces to grow food. In time, it soon became clear that this increased output of human beings and their various wastes was causing irreparable harm to the planet.

By the turn of the century, the projections only became worse, thanks in large part to the ongoing industrialization of developing nations. In these parts of the world, where a full third of the human race resides, the impact of so many new power plants, urban developments, superhighways, and fossil-fuel burning cars could not be underestimated. The problem of providing space for our people and seeing to their needs in a way that is sustainable in the long term has only become more pressing as a result.

As it turns out, the answer may lie in a concept developed in the 1960’s by a man named Paolo Soleri. An architect of Italian descent who studied at the feet of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, he is credited with coining the term “arcology”, a new form of architecture that plotted the creation of three-dimensional hyperstructures that would be self-sufficient, and in some cases, self-contained. Primarily proposed as a means to combat two-dimensional urban sprawl, arcologies were also meant to economize on transportation, energy use, commerce and agriculture. All needs, which included the need to reduce waste and impact on the environment, were incorporated in his new designs. And on top of that, they would be beautiful as well as very, very big.

One of his first designs was for a city-structure named Babel (or IID as it’s officially designated). This design called for a flared cylinder of apartments sitting in a saucer-shaped base, complete with commercial, civil spaces, and public areas. The estimated population for this monster design was 550,000 people – the population of a major city – but placed in an edifice 1900 meters high and 3000 meters at its widest point.

Close-ups of the design show the immense attention to detail that Soleri’s featured in his drawings. From housing, to production centers to water treatment and waste disposal, nothing was overlooked. And just in case you’re having problems imagining the scale, he features a picture of the Empire State building for a size comparison.

And then there was Hexadredon, an incredible geometric mountain resting on three immense supports. Accommodating over 170,000 people, it measured a mere 800 meters by 800 meters (640 square km). On top of all that, it looks immensely artistic, incorporating such design features as massive pyramids, support columns, and rotundas. In reality, it looks more like an ancient temple than a three-dimensional city.

His many other concepts involved cities adrift on water, built into canyons, or on the side of cliffs. As far as Soleri was concerned, nothing was off limits. Any and all geographic features and landscapes, including the ocean itself, could be built into human habitats. Though it remained somewhat speculative for its time, Soleri’s ideas formed the basis for a great deal of speculative writing and urban planning.

For instance, in Japan, urban planners have proposed a future city development to deal with urban sprawl in Tokyo – known as the Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid. As it stands, much of Tokyo Harbor is artificial, composed of fill in order to accommodate Japan’s growing population and industrial centers. This further expansion calls for the creation of a massive pyramid measuring 730 meters high, 8 square kilometers at the base, and capable of housing 750,000 people. All told, it would be roughly 14 times the size of the pyramid of Giza.

In addition, there is the proposed building project in Moscow known as “Crystal Island”. Measuring in at a whopping 2500 square kilometers at its base and 450 meters high, it will be the single largest structure on Earth, if and when it is completed. Shaped like a massive tent, the superstructure of the proposed design acts as a sort of second skin to the main building, creating a thermal buffer and shielding the interior from Moscow’s harsh weather.

In addition, this second skin will adjust with the seasons and sealed in winter to minimise heat loss, while opened again in summer to naturally cool the interior. Power would also be provided by built-in wind turbines and solar panel, as well as a series of renewable energy solutions. On top of all that, the design incorporates an existing park, which provides a range of activities, including cross-country skiing and skating. Construction was officially postponed in 2009 due to the economic crisis, but is expected to resume in the coming years.

Last, but not least, there is the planned community of Masdar City, which I wrote about in a previous article. Though not technically an arcology in the sense of a three-dimensional colossal environment, the design nevertheless incorporates all other aspects of Soleri’s concept. These include renewable energy sources, sustainable resource management, mass-transit, recycled water, and a range of other green technologies.

Today, the planned city of Arcosanti, which Soleri himself began construction on in 1970, remains an unfinished testament to his work and his genius. Located in central Arizona, just 110 km north of Phoenix, this work-in-progress incorporates Soleri’s unusual design features and, though uncompleted, remains a testament to his vision.

Check out this video from Arcosanti website, which featured Solari’s design for the mega-city Nudging Space: