Bakers Journal

Bread in space? Puratos leads SpaceBakery project

January 20, 2020
By Bakers Journal

Researchers will aim to learn how to create the ideal environment for wheat crops in space, as well as other plants that could be included in bread to increase its nutritional value.

Will the first people to bake and eat bread on Mars do it thanks to new research starting this January?

This is the challenge facing the SpaceBakery project, a unique consortium composed of seven Belgian organizations and led by the global bakery, pastry and chocolate expert Puratos.

However, before they use their research to help feed the first people on the red planet later this century, the project aims to have a clear impact on Earth today. The project will focus on how we can produce food in a more sustainable way and will help provide a nutritional staple food for many regions across the globe.

The consortium has just been awarded a new subsidy of 4.5 million euros, contributing to a total of over 6.3 million euros in funding.

Four large interconnected containers will soon be installed at Puratos’ headquarters near Brussels, Belgium. From the outside they may seem ordinary, but on 1 January 2020 researchers began working in the enclosed ecological plant cultivation system and bakery. What they discover could have a huge impact on our food production on Earth, as well as on Mars once humans launch their space exploration efforts.

Using the plant cultivation infrastructure, researchers from the seven members of the consortium will learn how to create the ideal environment for the efficient production of wheat crops, as well as other plants that could be included in bread to increase its nutritional value. But, why focus on bread? Because it is highly nutritional and consumed all over the world, making it an ideal candidate as a staple food for space exploration.

Speaking about the project, upstream R&D director at Puratos, Filip Arnaut said in a press release: “With this consortium, we are bringing together various knowledge domains and expertise in order to answer a very important question: how can we further improve nutritional value, sustainability and the efficient use of energy to produce food – here bread, one of our main specialties – today, but also tomorrow in more challenging environments.”

The environment on Mars is very different from Earth’s; the lack of atmosphere, cold temperatures and dust storms don’t provide the right conditions for crop growth. It’s for this reason that the research will take place in the coupled containers, a closed and self-sustainable system in which the climate can be adapted to make it suitable for crop growth, with optimal use of resources.

In parallel to the research on crops, the consortium will also study many other aspects involved in the entire food production cycle, such as the use and recycling of resources, the monitoring of microbial climate, influence of radiation, and pollination through automated drones.

The company called Urban Crop Solutions, a solution provider for vertical farming, developed the plant growth infrastructure and will further engineer a variable climate biosphere, a hermetically sealed building in which different climatic conditions can be simulated to support the growth of a diverse range of crops, combined with human habitation. The company will also work on the development of an AI algorithm to optimize crop growth and minimize the resource inputs.

Magics Instruments, a technology company specialized in the development of semiconductor chips and machine learning-based smart sensors, will focus on the automation of pollination and work with Urban Crop Solutions to investigate how artificial intelligence can optimize crop growth.

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