The future of food: 3D printing, vertical farming & materials science
Food… what we eat and how we grow it will be fundamentally transformed in the next decade.
Already, the vertical farming industry is projected to exceed US$15 billion by 2025, surging at an astonishing 38% annual growth rate.
At the same time, the market for 3D food printing is also expected to grow at a high rate, averaging nearly 20% annual growth over the next five years.
Converging exponential technologies-from materials science to AI-driven digital agriculture-are not slowing down. Today’s breakthroughs will soon allow our planet to boost its food production by nearly 70%, using a fraction of the real estate and resources to feed 9 billion by mid-century.
What you consume, how it was grown, and how it will end up in your stomach will all ride this wave of rapid technological advancement.
In today’s blog, I will discuss how we are revolutionizing the most basic of human needs.
Let’s dive in…
: The future of the food industry will be a key area of focus during my upcoming Abundance 360 Mastermind in January.
3D printing has already had a profound impact on the manufacturing sector. We are now able to print across hundreds of different materials, making anything from toys to houses to organs. And now we are finally seeing the emergence of 3D printers that can print food.
Redefine Meat, an Israeli startup, is tackling industrial meat production using 3D printers that can generate meat-no animals required. The printer takes in fat, water, and three different plant protein sources, using these ingredients to print a meat fiber matrix with trapped fat and water, thus mimicking the texture and flavor of real meat.
Earlier this year, Redefine Meat unveiled its first food item: an entirely 3D-printed alt-steak, which is now in consumer testing at high-end restaurants in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. In 2021, the company is planning for mass distribution of the alt-steak in European and American restaurants.
Anrich3D aims to take this process a step further by 3D printing meals that are customized to your medical records, health data from your smart wearables, and patterns detected by your sleep trackers. The company plans to use multiple extruders for multi-material printing, allowing them to dispense each ingredient precisely for nutritionally optimized meals.
Currently in an R&D phase at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Anrich3D hopes to have its first taste tests in 2021.
These are only a few of the many 3D food printing startups springing into existence. The benefits from such innovations are boundless.
Not only will food 3D printing grant consumers control over the ingredients and mixtures they consume, but it is already beginning to enable new innovations in flavor itself, democratizing far healthier meal options in newly customizable cuisine categories.
Vertical farming, whereby food is grown in vertical stacks (in skyscrapers and buildings rather than outside in fields), represents a classic case of converging exponential technologies.
Over the past decade, the technology has surged from a handful of early-stage pilots to a full-grown industry.
Today, the average American meal travels 1,500–2,500 miles to reach your plate. As summed up by food industry expert Brian Halweil, “we are spending far more energy to get food to the table than the energy we get from eating the food.”
Additionally, the longer foods are out of the soil, the less nutritious they become, losing on average 45% of their nutrition before being consumed.
Yet beyond cutting down on time and transportation losses, vertical farming eliminates a whole host of issues in food production.
Relying on hydroponics and aeroponics, vertical farms allows us to grow crops with 90% less water than traditional agriculture. This is critical for our increasingly thirsty planet.
Currently, the largest player around is Bay Area-based Plenty Inc. With over US$540 million in funding, Plenty is taking a smart-tech approach to indoor agriculture. Plants grow on twenty-foot high towers, monitored by tens of thousands of cameras and sensors, optimized by big data and machine learning.
This allows the company to pack 40 plants in a space previously occupied by one. The process produces yields 350X greater than outdoor farmland, while using less than 1% as much water.
And rather than bespoke veggies for the wealthy few, Plenty’s processes allow them to knock 20–35% off the costs of traditional grocery stores. To date, Plenty has their home base in South San Francisco in a facility known as Tigris, a research center in Wyoming, and plans for a new farm in Compton, California.
Another major player is New Jersey-based AeroFarms, which can now grow 2 million pounds of leafy greens without sunlight or soil.
To do this, AeroFarms uses AI-controlled LEDs to provide optimized wavelengths of light for each individual plant. Using aeroponics, the company delivers nutrients by misting them directly onto the plants’ roots-no soil required. Instead, plants are suspended in a growth mesh fabric made from recycled water bottles. Here too, sensors, cameras, and machine learning govern the entire process.
And AeroFarms is expanding. The company is slated to build the world’s largest vertical firm in Abu Dhabi, a whopping 90,000 square foot facility.
While 26–40% of the cost of vertical farming is human labor, advances in autonomous robotics promise to solve that problem. Enter contenders like Iron Ox, a firm that has developed the Angus robot, capable of moving around plant-growing containers.
The writing is on the wall, and traditional agriculture is fast being turned on its head. As Plenty’s CEO Matt Barnard explains, “Just like Google benefitted from the simultaneous combination of improved technology, better algorithms and masses of data, we are seeing the same [in vertical farming].”
In an era where materials science, nanotechnology, and biotechnology are rapidly becoming the same field of study, key advances are enabling us to create healthier, more nutritious, more efficient, and longer-lasting food.
For starters, we are now able to boost the photosynthetic abilities of plants.
The most notable effort is the RIPE project, backed by Bill Gates and run out of the University of Illinois, which has been responsible for several breakthroughs in the last few years.
Crucially, the project has demonstrated the ability to boost tobacco crop yield by 27%, a true test of the photosynthesis technology. They now plan to translate these findings to staple crops.
In yet another win for food-related materials science, Santa Barbara-based Apeel Sciences is tackling the vexing challenge of food waste. Now in commercialization, Apeel uses lipids and glycerolipids found in the peels, seeds, and pulps of all fruits and vegetables to create “cutin”-the fatty substance that composes the skin of fruits and prevents them from rapidly spoiling by trapping moisture.
By then spraying fruits with this generated substance, Apeel can preserve foods 60% longer, using an odorless, tasteless, colorless organic substance. They are on track to save 20 million pieces of fruit in 2020.
And stores across the U.S. are already using this method. By leveraging our advancing knowledge of plants and chemistry, materials science is allowing us to produce more food with far longer-lasting freshness and more nutritious value than ever before.
With advances in 3D printing, vertical farming and materials sciences, we can now make food smarter, more productive, and far more resilient.
By the end of the next decade, you should be able to 3D print a fusion cuisine dish from the comfort of your home, using ingredients harvested from vertical farms, with nutritional value optimized by AI and materials science.
And yet, even this picture is just a fraction of all the rapid changes underway in the food industry.
Join Me at Abundance 360 in January
If you want to understand how converging exponential technologies like AI, 3D printing, and robotics are reshaping the agriculture and food industries, then consider joining my Abundance 360 Mastermind Summit .
Every year, my team and I select a group of 360 entrepreneurs and CEOs to coach over the course of a year-long program. A360 starts each January with a live event and continues every two months with Implementation Workshops, in which I personally coach members in small groups over Zoom. (In January 2021, you have a choice of live “in-person” or “virtual” participation. See the A360 website for more info.)
My mission is to help A360 members identify their massively transformative purpose, select their moonshot, hone their mindsets, and leverage exponential technologies to transform their businesses.