Purdue team wins "blue sky" award for the future of manufactured meat

When the National Science Foundation (NSF) asks manufacturing engineers to think big, Purdue University researchers think really big. They proposed a breakthrough vision and roadmap to tackle history’s most persistent problem: food security. Their plan, creating a manufacturing infrastructure for cultured meat, has won 1st place in the NSF Manufacturing Blue Sky Competition.
Purdue University researchers have been working on a roadmap for the future of manufactured meat (also called cellular agriculture), incorporating the expertise of numerous stakeholders from engineering, agriculture, biomedicine, sociology, public policy, and more.

The competition was co-hosted by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), taking place at a joint conference at Purdue University in June 2022. Previous years’ winners offered “blue sky” visions of 3D-printing civil infrastructure; in-space manufacturing factories; teaching manufacturing skills through video games; or transforming operating rooms into surgical manufacturing suites.

The Purdue-led team – composed of manufacturing engineers and agriculture experts – decided to play to their strengths. They have focused their research on cultured meat: the process of “growing” meat using live cells, and creating an end product that both visually and nutritionally resembles traditional meat products of today, without using vast amounts of natural resources.

“Cultured meat is an incredibly complex topic,” said team leader Michael Sealy, associate professor of mechanical engineering. “There are many organizations around the world who feel they have mastered one or another aspect of the process. But for us, it’s more important that we consider the bigger picture of cellular agriculture, using modern manufacturing as our blueprint.”

In the presentation, they advocate that the future of food is in convergent manufacturing: a concept that combines all forms of manufacturing (additive, subtractive, transformative) with the flexibility of multiple materials, processes, and systems in one platform. However, they also laid out the challenge as being bigger than just the technical processes of creating cultured meat.

“Eventually, we’ll master the science,” Sealy said. “The bigger challenge is re-imagining our food infrastructure: supply chains, raw materials, automation, food safety & security, packaging, transportation, communication, and workforce. We also have to think about diversity: how do we build-in processes now to ensure that the food of tomorrow gets to the people who need it the most?”

Other members of the team come from the worlds of agriculture, engineering, biomedicine, and sociology. They included Ajay P. Malshe, R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Haley Oliver, Professor of Food Science; Salil Bapat, Research Scientist; K.P. Rajurkar and Julia McQuillan from University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Monsuru Ramoni from Navajo Technical University; and Ali Tamayol from the University of Connecticut.

The effort is part of a larger Purdue-led initiative called I-CAFE (Institute for Convergent Manufacturing for Agriculture and Food for Equity). This interdisciplinary team has been road-mapping the way forward for cellular agriculture as a means to tackle food insecurity around the world.

“Food is probably our most basic human need,” said Malshe, co-principal investigator of I-CAFE. “But food insecurity is on the rise around the world. Even here in America, more than 1 in 8 people deal with food insecurity – that’s 38 million people. If we can harness our expertise in manufacturing to create a new kind of infrastructure to provide access and affordability to tasty and nutritious food, we can bring a better healthier quality of life to Americans and the whole world.”

“Purdue is famous for making giant leaps,” continued Malshe. “We believe that convergent manufacturing and cellular agriculture will be the next giant leap that will enable us to feed the future.”


Writer: Jared Pike, jaredpike@purdue.edu, 765-496-0374

Source: Michael Sealy, msealy@purdue.edu

Ajay Malshe, amalshe@purdue.edu