SpaceBakery project explores possibility of bakery on Mars

The SpaceBakery project is a unique consortium composed of seven Belgian organisations and led by global bakery, pastry and chocolate company Puratos. Its mission is to discover whether bread can be baked on Mars, to feed the population of the future.

However, before the group uses its 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, contributing to a total of over €6.3 million in funding.

Four large interconnected containers will soon be installed at Puratos’ headquarters near Brussels, Belgium, whihc will contain an enclosed ecological plant cultivation system and bakery.

Using a 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.

Speaking about the project, Upstream R&D director at Puratos, Filip Arnaut said: “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.”

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 consortium is made up of:

  • Puratos, an international producer of ingredients and innovative solutions for the bakery, pastry and chocolate sector, headquartered in Belgium.
  • Urban Crop Solutions, a solution provider for vertical farming, which developed the plant growth infrastructure and will also work on the development of an AI algorithm to optimise crop growth and minimise resource inputs.
  • Magics Instruments, a technology company specialised 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 optimise crop growth.
  • SCK•CEN, a BioSciences research group, will study the effect of microorganisms on the release of nutrients to plants and monitor the overall microbial climate in the closed environment. Additionally, they will investigate the impact of increased ionising radiation, as is present in space and on Mars, on wheat growth.
  • Ghent University, through its applied plant eco-physiological research at the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, will create a 3D model of wheat growth and development using functional-structural plant modelling and data from innovative plant sensors. This “virtual 3D-crop” will then be used to determine the most optimal and sustainable way to grow wheat in the closed biosphere system.
  • The University of Hasselt, with its centre for environmental science, will analyse how the waste of the wheat plant can be used to make the closed biosphere system circular by reusing organic matter.
  • Flanders Food, an agri-food spearhead cluster and supporter of the project, will focus on collaboration across the food value chain.

Inge Arents, managing director of Flanders’ Food, said: “The SpaceBakery project is important for Flanders’ Food’s strategy. It is an example of sustainable and resilient agri-food systems, emphasising how agriculture and food production can allow future generations to enjoy tasty food for a healthy lifestyle. We hope that this project inspires other companies in the broad ecosystem around the food industry. We are grateful to Vlaio that we were able to support the funding of this project.”

The consortium will start its research in Belgium on 1 January 2020 for a period of two-and-a-half years. A total of €6.3 million will be invested by the seven partners to fund the research.

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