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3D Food Printing – The Future of Synthetic Foods

  -   19. March 2017
Source: geralt/

Lab-grown beef burgers and 3D-printed foods, anyone? These days, the technological innovation of synthetic foods is more and more considered as “the future of foods”. While scientists astonish consumers with new inventions, there is actually another thought behind it: namely that of the projected population growth. To find out what this innovation is all about and why synthetic food is directly related to global demographic growth, read the following article.

Chuck Hull: The Godfather of 3D Printing

Let’s take a trip back in time where it all started with an invention in 1983, when Chuck Hull’s first 3D printer proved to be successful. A year after, the co-founder of this innovation filed a patent for “stereolithography”, known as a form of 3D printing. Since then, 3D printers have found application in different areas. In 2011, Hod Lipson, director of Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab, and a few of his students started to experiment with three-dimensional printing. As his students had fun messing around with raw materials and foods, public interest aroused increasingly. And all of a sudden, everyone seemed to find broad interest in 3D food printing.

So Far, so Good – But How Is Printed Food Supposed to Feed a Population that Does Not Stop Growing?

Projections of demographic growth predict that the current world population will reach a number of 9.1 billion by 2050 – an accrual rate of 34 percent. Since most of the growth forecast can be affiliated to developing countries, food production must increase accordingly. In 15 years’ time, it may be possible that the foods we consume will come out of a printer instead of being produced on an industrial scale. Take the example of meat: if we continue to eat meat without thinking about environmentally sustainable farming methods, scientists predict the world to end. Since the world’s meat and food consumption will rise dramatically, researchers are working on a cheap and less-resource requiring solution approach for consumers. At this point, it is questionable which of the innovation strategies can be applied to the aforementioned crisis. As a result of population growth, resources and changing weather patterns will not be able to stick with the world’s demand for food supplies. In this case, we are talking about a “demand-pull” since the population demands for a solution to the world food problem (scarcity of supplies) they will be faced with in the next decades. In order to provide human beings with foods in days to come, scientists have already worked on a “technology-push” measure. Even if 3D printers have been introduced a long time ago, researchers keep on exploring how they can make use of this technology device to ensure food supplies for the world’s population.

The Perks of 3D Food Printing

Nowadays, scientific explorations of three-dimensional food printing present a wide range of possible benefits in favor of our population. The potential of printed food can be looked at from different perspectives: on the one hand, convenience and customization seem to be highly promising. As synthetic food will be able to adapt to dietary choices and food allergies of the individuals, significant attention is paid to human health. Apart from that, professors of Maastricht University conducted several experiments on lab-grown and printed meals, predicting environmental well-being if industrial applications are replaced. As the world’s population increases more and more, it will be difficult to provide our society with conventional farming methods. For this reason, 3D-printed food could turn out to be a successful solution to feed the next generation.

How Far Have We Come?

Up to now, the development of 3D food printing seems to hold a lot of promise. Since the quality of 3D printers has advanced in recent years, synthetic food is becoming more of a reality. Despite significant progress in innovation management, the technology of 3D printing is facing various challenges that have to be worked on in the near future. Major issues like taste, consistency, ingredients and costs are to be investigated. Furthermore, obstacles with regards to safety standards could arise. It is therefore necessary to recognize and handle these challenges, so that technological improvements can be made in time. We can get excited about what lies ahead. The sooner the better!

Who wrote it?

Guest Author

This article was written by a guest author. The guest authors of the Mainzer Manager are distinguished by their special expertise. They are experts in their field and are in regular contact with other experts.


Silas Nikolaus
22-03-2017 20:49

I think printing food sounds pretty futuristic and somehow unreal to me. For me it is something that has appeared in sci-fi movies and is still far from reality. I really enjoyed reading the article because I only heard from 3D printing in terms of little objects like toys etc. That a printer can actually produce food which is even adapting to dietary choices, allergies and personal preferences sounds pretty good to me but if it will be that easy is will show future developments.

Van Nguyen
22-03-2017 19:54

I have heard about this 3-D food printing story before but could have never imagine how things work. I mean the possibility of printing food sounds so surreal. For sure this 3-D food printing is not an invention that will replace food completely but I think it is a good alternative as you have stated above. What I am most curious about is how this "printed food" taste like. I have so many expecations of the future.

Sophia Pan
22-03-2017 13:46

I really enjoyed reading your article, as it presents a very interesting and at the same time controversial topic. I like that you connected the topic with the problem of population growth and lack of resources. However, personally, I am also still concerned about this development but I think it is an important innovation. Even though you are saying that the 3d printed food will be healthy due to exact calculations, etc. I think that the healthiness of it can not be really measured yet! We do not have any experience with this kind of artificial food from a 3D printer and thus it is impossible to truly determine whether it is healthy or not. At the moment it seems to be healthy, but do we really know for sure? And what about the costs of this innovation? What kind of resources would we need in order to produce our own synthetic food?

Isabelle Hachenberg
21-03-2017 23:13

I have to admit that after I read the headline I had absolutely no clue about synthetic food - I never heard about this topic ever before. The more interested I got, reading about printing food in relation to our growing word population and demographic changes. I totally see the points of the other comments as healthy, natural food is controversial to printed "produced" products. Especially in our contemporary society where becoming vegan and only eating plant-based is a trend, this innovation might come upon criticism.

Toni Dang
21-03-2017 16:35

A very interesting topoc but I am very curious about 3-D food printing and its development. I am asking myself how they want to do the process. Do consumer just buy artifically created proteins and flavours ? Als i don't know whether our body can handle artifical created food. Nevertheless I really want to taste it if there are enough studies that can proof us that the food is healthy and do not harm us.

Franziska Blum
21-03-2017 15:33

As my colleagues, I also have some concerns about this topic. What if we start to rely on this and gen it breaks down? There will be some technicians needed to take care of all problems that arise in each machine. However, if the technology works well, we will maybe get a great benefit out of it. In contracts, we will only know what long-term impacts on our lives this could have after it is really used for decades regularly. I don't know if I his can really be a healthy alternative and if people will really accept it in general. But future will show us...

Patrick Hanke
20-03-2017 21:23

Incredible to see that with the same starting point, the innovation of stereolithography, scientists and engineers have set off in sometimes completely different directions with this innovation. In your blog it is about the capabilities of 3D-printing to create food, whereas my blog discusses the opportunities of the process of stereolithography in the areas of medical engineering and architecture. 3D-printing is unbelievably versatile and gives the opportunity to develop it in almost any way possible. The technology of printing 3D-food seems to be still in its beginning phase with commercialisation of this technology needing a few more years probably. But one thing seems to be for sure, whether 3D-food or 3D-tools and organs, 3D-printing has the potential to change completely the way we live and consume in the future.

Katharina Blanckart
20-03-2017 14:08

Even before I started reading your article and knew about the topic, I was hoping you catch up with the connection to the growing population and the need for more groceries. In theory I think this is a great idea with the potential to solve an actual urging issue of feeding an entire population in the next years to come. However, I must agree with Beate and Marie as I have the same concerns. While a healthy living lifestyle might be more of interest for western countries, it would not be for developing countries where the actual need for food to survive is definitely prevalent. How is the implementation going to look like? Are we talking about regular food, with all the nutrition natural food comes with or is this going to be more like a ‘power food’, full of protein and minerals to compensate the lack of the population in these countries? These are all questions coming to my mind reading about this topic. Regarding the potential food crisis which various expert predict come, 3D food printing definitely stays in the game and who knows where technology will lead us?

Marie Schubert
20-03-2017 10:29

Food out of a printer? At the moment I cannot really imagine that I would like to eat that every day. The process behind seems complex and somehow strange to me, that I am not sure if I really like that development. As Beate mentioned, it is hard to imagine that the food is healthy and I totally agree with her. Scientists and industry is in the obligation to check that accurately. I am very sceptical if such an artificial nutrition would be good for people´s personal development. On the other hand, the problem of the growing population is getting more present and we have to find a solution. Should everyone then have a food printer at home? I could rather imagine a supermarket only offering food out of the printer – but would that be affordable for everyone? In addition to that I can hardly imagine that people currently facing the trend of “healthy living” would be openly towards this development. Nevertheless I am really curious about 3D food printing and its future development and I really want to taste it. To my mind, when 3D food printing really wants to be socially acceptable, than there is a lot of work connected. People would definitely like to be enlightened what´s exactly happening while printing and need to be convinced that it is healthy and not dangerous.

Beate Gaitzsch
19-03-2017 16:59

It's an intriguing idea to be able to feed the world out of a printer. It still seems a bit unbelievable to me, but I'm sure scientists will develop it further. However I'm a bit sceptical with regards to the healthiness of it. Even if it's good for the environment, we should make sure that it won't have negative impacts on people. But since nearly all innovations sounded unreal at first, I'm optimistic that there will be a solution to a growing world population, maybe with the help of 3D printers.



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