BELGUIM – The SpaceBakery project, a unique consortium composed of seven Belgian organisations has secured a total of €6.3m (US$6.93m) in funding to support the project’s research on finding sustainable food production technologies.

Led Puratos, a global bakery, pastry and chocolate expert, the consortium will begin research in 2020 working on an enclosed ecological system to explore possibilities of producing food in Mars with an aim of sustainably feeding the growing population in the future.

However, before the project uses the research to help feed the first people on the red planet later this century, the consortium said it first aims to have a clear impact on Earth today.

The project will be installing four large interconnected containers at Puratos’ headquarters near Brussels, Belgium but. Starting 1 January 2020 researchers will start working in the enclosed ecological plant cultivation system and bakery.

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 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, the researchers said.

Using the impressive 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.

In parallel to the research on crops, the consortium will also study 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 researchers said the project will focus on bread owed to its high nutrition profile and large scale of consumption, 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: “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.”

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.”

Other partners in the research include Urban Crop Solutions, Magics Instruments, SCK-CEN, Ghent University, The University of Hasselt and Flanders’ Food.

The Space Bakery project prioritises sustainability, health and the efficient use of resources, providing solutions that will be extremely relevant for space technology tomorrow and here on Earth today.