Belgian bread on Mars

(27-11-2019) Will the first people to bake and eat bread on Mars do it thanks to a Belgian breakthrough? This is the challenge facing the SpaceBakery project.

Space Bakery is a unique consortium composed of 7 Belgian organisations. Ghent University is one of them.

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 results could have a huge impact on our food production on Earth, as well as on Mars once humans launch their space exploration efforts.

6.3 million euros

The consortium has just been awarded a subsidy of 4.5 million euros by the Flemish government via VLAIO (Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship), contributing to a total of over 6.3 million euros in funding.

The consortium was recently launched and will start its research in Groot-Bijgaarden on 1 January 2020 for a period of two-and-a-half years.

Mars in Belgium

The environment on Mars is very different from ours on Earth; 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 4 coupled containers, at Puratos' headquarters in Groot-Bijgaarden.

The containers will form 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.

From the outside they may seem ordinary, but on 1 January 2020 researchers will start working in the enclosed ecological plant cultivation system and bakery.

Using the impressive plant cultivation infrastructure, researchers from the 7 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.

In parallel to the research on crops, the consortium will also study many other aspects involved in the entire food production cycle:

  • the use and recycling of resources;
  • the monitoring of microbial climate;
  • influence of radiation;
  • pollination through automated drones.

Why bread?

Why focus on bread? Because it's highly nutritional and consumed all over the world, making it an ideal candidate as a staple food for space exploration.

3D-wheatTarwe in 3D

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." - Prof. Kathy Steppe (Ghent University).

The consortium

The consortium is led by Puratos, an international producer of ingredients and innovative solutions for the bakery, pastry and chocolate sector, headquartered in Belgium. Their century-long expertise in bread-making and innovation will be key as food consumed on Mars or on Earth must be nutritional - and also tasty.

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.

The company 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 optimise crop growth and minimise the resource inputs.

Magics Instruments, a technology company specialised in the development of chips and artificial intelligence 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, the 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.

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, the agri-food spearhead cluster and supporter of the project, will focus on collaboration across the food value chain. They will also guide the further coordination and dissemination of the project.

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