Obtaining R&D Tax Credits for 3D Printing Pasta


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Want to share an al dente meal of pasta with someone in a different state? Simply 3D print your meals from your kitchen and video chat with your friend as you virtually share a bowl of fettuccine alfredo. Developments in 3D printing pasta technologies are allowing consumers to imagine the “pastabilities.” For many households, the kitchen counter is filled with appliances, such as coffee makers, toasters, microwave ovens. But what if one of those common culinary appliances was a 3D pasta printer? Companies and designers engaging in research and development of 3D printing pasta are now eligible for state and federal R&D tax credits.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • Technological in nature
  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Elimination of uncertainty
  • Process of experimentation

Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against payroll taxes.

Startups Hungry for 3D Printing

The new federal tax law is extremely beneficial for startups. For the first time ever, a qualifying startup can use the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes beginning January 1, 2016. Essentially, with the new startup provision, companies can claim the credit even if they do not pay income tax and regardless of their profitability.

The advent of food automation has influenced a major change in consumer trends as it pertains to the food industry. Established companies, growing startups and collaborative think tanks alike are working on the development of 3D printed pasta. Startups in particular are in a better position than ever before to take advantage of the R&D Tax Credit, which will support their efforts. Experimenting with different materials to improve the quality of food, designing new 3D printing applications to achieve greater efficiency and variety, and developing prototypes are all activities that are eligible to obtain R&D tax credits. A startup business with annual gross receipts of less than $5 million should take advantage of this benefit.

Columbia University

Hod Lipson, a mechanical engineering professor at Columbia University, and his team of engineers are working to provide opportunities for students to experiment with printing food. Food production could be vastly simpler if individuals were able to download a recipe online and then load the necessary ingredients into the printer. Lipson’s laboratory is proving just this – by combining information technology software and biometrics with cooking, individuals are able to mass produce various types of food. Similar to brewing coffee, he envisions that in the future people will be able to order pre-filled cartridges of food ingredients or refill their printer cartridges with ingredients such as sauces or soft cheese to create innovative dishes.

Researchers are actively trying to develop 3D printers that will be able to handle a multitude of materials. This will make it possible for users to combine food ingredients geared towards their taste preferences and dietary needs, such as sugar and salt levels. Engineers are experimenting with different printer “inks” in order to analyze the appropriate quantities and combinations of materials, including various pastes and powders to create different foods. Complex and technically challenging activities such as these are often associated with a process of experimentation and the evaluation of alternatives, which are activities eligible for companies who are looking to take advantage of state and federal R&D tax credits to support their innovative efforts.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

3D printing pasta noodles is becoming more and more possible. The Tangible Media Group, led by Professor Hiroshi Ishii at MIT Media Lab, is combining 3D printing, molecular gastronomy and macaroni in a new 2017 research project. Using their developed concept of transformative appetite, the research team can alter edible 2D sheets of common food materials (i.e. protein, cellulose, gelatin and starch) into 3D food for cooking. The 2D-to-3D transformation is the result of water adsorption, which is a surface-based process that can cause differential expansion of the substrate film, allowing it take on the familiar shapes of pasta noodles such as shells and penne, as well as more intricate pasta shapes like campanelle. These 3D printed shapes feature bending behavior that is controllable as ethyl cellulose strips are introduced as both shape constraints and water barriers on top of the film.

According to the research group, this breakthrough could aid in decreasing shipping costs, reducing packaging waste and the need for more storage space, as the sheets of substrate can be packed flatly. Furthermore, the MIT team has created ways to shape-shift pasta using lower technology methods such as screen printing, making it a feasible option for those looking to try their hand at designing their own noodles, but who lack robust 3D printers and modeling software. A database is available containing pasta patterns that anyone can use to print their own versions. Presently, the team is researching ways of overcoming their most critical challenge yet, which exceeds resemblance in shape and texture: achieving that satisfying starchiness that consumers expect when eating a plate of their favorite pasta dish.


Although 3D printed pasta is primarily associated with fast, simple and consistent cooking, it can now be used to create innovative gourmet recipes. For past five years, Barilla has been working in collaboration with well-known 3D printing innovators from the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) on developing their own 3D pasta printer. Last year at the CIBUS 2016 International Food Exhibition in Parma, the world leader in pasta sales unveiled a working prototype of their pasta 3D printer. Relying on ready-made pasta cartridges, this cool machine can produce four unique pasta shapes in just two minutes.

Fabrizio Cassotta, Barilla’s Innovation Pasta, Ready Meals and Smart Food Manager, shared that preparing pasta could be changing soon, as it will be easier to produce, even hinting at the idea that users can print their favorite noodles at home directly from their iPads, which will be ready in the time it takes for a pot of water to boil on the stove. Currently, Barilla’s market focus includes restaurants and pasta stores; however, it could spread to bringing technology to home kitchens.

Futuristic Fine Dining at Food Ink.

Located in London, Food Ink. is a restaurant that offers a fine dining experience with a technological twist. Gourmet items from their nine course menu can be printed to order, but it doesn’t stop there. In addition to intricate geometric designs in the form of sugary candies and chocolate plating designs, the restaurant has been largely furnished and decorated using a 3D printer, from the tables and chairs to the utensils and lamps.

The restaurant hosts a fully immersive meal for 10 dinner guests each night. Patrons can expect a futuristic dining experience, complete with virtual reality headsets and accompanied by music composed by AI applications. However, founders Antony Dobrzensky and Marcio Barradas are still experimenting with innovative technologies in order to expand and refine the interactive edible experience that they offer. For example, the byFlow 3D printer can only process materials in the form of paste, putting a limit on the availability of printed menu items. Although there is still a considerable amount of research and development needed for 3D printed gourmet dishes to become a reality, 3D printing as it stands can enable chefs to produce and replicate the same molecular gastronomy with precision, as many times as necessary.


3D printing has spread to gastronomy. From scientific laboratories to fine dining restaurants, 3D printed pasta is making a statement and may eventually be available in databases and stores near you. Companies who employ personnel such as engineers and designers who are engaged in testing the power of 3D printed pasta may be eligible to take advantage of state and federal R&D tax credits, which are available to stimulate innovation.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

Charles Goulding, Lara Tomiko and Alize Margulis of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed pasta.


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