Six technologies changing the future of food

Food production, processing and transportation account for a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and enormous amounts of food are wasted each year in some parts of the world while other regions suffer from shortages. Fortunately, agricultural engineers and scientists are working hard to increase food production, create cleaner agricultural processes and develop greener packaging. With technological advancements, it may be possible to sharply reduce carbon emissions from the agriculture and food industries while simultaneously addressing food supply issues.

3D food printing cuts down on labor

Science fiction movies have long imagined a food future in which meals magically appear at the press of a button. Well, we’re still a ways off from that point, but it is possible to 3D-print meals using the Foodini maker from Natural Machine. Simply fill the machine with ingredients and programs it, and tedious time-consuming processes like filling raviolis will become a mostly hands-off chore. The device can also build pizzas, form burger patties and even print adorable edible holiday ornaments made from chocolate.

Grow your own space garden

The definition of “astronaut food” might change soon, and in a big, leafy way. Yes, emerging food technologies are even looking at ways to grow produce in space, to help astronauts eat a healthier diet. NASA spent some time developing hydroponics technologies, but it was a low priority compared to actual space exploration, so the project was axed. The progress, though,inspired DesignLibero to create the Green Wheel, which is a self-contained rotary garden for homeowners. There’s no telling whether the Green Wheel would successfully grow veggies in outer space, but it definitely brings a little space age technology to everyday life.

Truly biodegradable packaging made from seaweed

When it comes to the environmental impacts of food, plastic bottles and packaging rank pretty high. They’re cheap from a financial perspective, but they are difficult and expensive to recycle (a process that also consumes a lot of water), and huge amounts of plastic waste escape the waste management process entirely and pose a danger to wildlife.

Icelandic product designer Ari Jónsson created an alternative to single-use plastic bottles using agar, a jelly-like, edible substance derived from algae. Agar is used in cooking applications as a gelatin substitute, but it can also be mixed with water and poured into molds to create durable food containers, including water bottles, that are truly biodegradable.

Lab-grown meat saves land and water

Meat is a hot topic in global discussions about the environmental impact of food, largely because of the resources required to raise livestock. For instance, it takes around 441 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, and the same amount of meat produces the equivalent of 22.3 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, contributing to climate change at an alarming rate. A few years ago, food scientists in the Netherlands got to work on a controversial solution: lab-grown meat, also known as “in vitro meat.”

Cultured muscle grown from actual cow stem cells is laced together in layers in a round mold to become what advocates are touting as an ethical beef burger. The process is complicated and extremely expensive (the first burger essentially cost $325,000), but it results in a fat-free burger that testers report “tastes reasonably good,” while virtually eliminating the environmental problems of traditional livestock rearing.

More productive crops fight world hunger

Addressing world hunger seems like a natural aim for food production technology, and some biologists think mutant corn might be the answer. Scientists found a way to exploit a natural genetic mutation and then cross-breed mutated corn with traditional corn crops to produce larger ears of corn, without changing any other aspects of the corn itself.

The result is an increase in crop yield of up to 50 percent — a staggering figure for regions where agriculture is struggling to keep up with food demand, often with limited acreage. Although the breakthrough hasn’t been tested outside the lab, scientists are already looking into ways to harness similar genetic mutations in other staple crops — such as wheat and rice — that could lead to increases in crop output.

Vertical indoor farms create local produce

As climate change spurs fits of droughts and flooding in different areas of the planet, agriculture has become a much more tenuous industry. Perhaps the most exciting alternative is the rise of indoor farming, which brings hydroponic warehouses to urban centers and brings higher food production per square foot, as well as reduced costs and environmental impacts related to transportation.

Japanese plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura, CEO of Mirai Co., partnered with GE Japan to build the world’s largest indoor farm in Miyagi Prefecture in eastern Japan. The former Sony factory now houses high-tech hydroponics equipment that allows workers to harvest thousands of heads of lettuce each day.

source: engadget.com By Cat DiStasio

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