biomass in a pan

DARPA seeks ‘top chef’ for 3D printed food

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is inviting small-business innovators to submit ideas for turning cellular biomass created through its ReSource program into safe, visually appealing, edible and palatable food that can support the military and civilians when traditional food is unavailable.

DARPA’s ReSource program aims to engineer versatile, durable systems that use local feedstock and mixed waste to rapidly produce a wide range of on-demand products, ranging from potable water and “edible macronutrient” to  lubricants, adhesives and tactical fibers to support expeditionary units and humanitarian relief operations.

Announced Nov. 23, the Innovative Nutritional Formulations program aims to turn edible biomass into palatable food rations at scale under austere conditions for disaster relief, as a backup food supply for submarines and aircraft carriers and to supplement vulnerable supply lines. Besides delivering sufficient calories, vitamins and nutrition for those in inaccessible locations, the program aims to reduce the military infrastructure’s carbon footprint, maximize on-site resources and develop ways to generate materials in the field.

The food will be evaluated for safety and its taste profile, though DARPA says the product should be assessed through chemical analysis, rather than by actually eating it.  It must also meet nutritional needs of various populations and have a long shelf life, whether the biomass and final products are intended for a small population in a remote location or warfighters on a ship where it can be stored under controlled temperatures and humidity.

Proposers can develop the cellular biomass into liquid, powder, paste or edible ink -- so long as it is  compatible “with 3D printing formats and other, low footprint, minimal logistical technologies,” DARPA said. Other considerations include sterilization or pasteurization requirements, the on-site sourcing of materials and compatibility with design of the overall system.

This two-year program features interim readiness tests of increasing difficulty, culminating in an ultimate challenge that will focus on “production of customized provisions from cellular biomass using performer-defined specifications while mimicking a remote, austere environment,” DARPA said.

Ultimately, DARPA wants a flexible platform users can adapt to create customized provisions based on individual needs at scale under a variety of conditions.

Submissions are due Feb. 3. Read the full notice here.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.


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