A group of international scientists headed by Australian Richard Jefferson is establishing the framework for a biofuels industry built on open source software and standards-based tools.
Jefferson is CEO of Cambia, a non-profit institute dedicated to creating new technologies to promote change and enable innovation and is the director of the new Initiative for Open Innovation (IOI, www.openinnovation.org)
Cambia has also established Patent Lens, a free global, open-access, full-text patent informatics resource, which Jefferson says is essential to creating a new open source biofuels industry.
“You can’t just shoehorn open source licensing into biofuels,” Jefferson says. “We want the patent system to be navigable so you can map out the patent. With patents you have to disclose to the public how you invent something. The patent system has some horrible sides so we’re trying to render the patent system so we can mine it for inventions. That’s laying the ground work for green energy.”
And developing open source for green energy is empowered by the IOI.
“That can’t happen if IOI doesn’t happen first,” Jefferson says. “The IOI just had a global meeting. The Gates Foundation funding is for a global decision facility for patents and how they impact on innovation. It wants a cyber-based evidence discovery facility.”
The IOI started with a grant of $5 million ($4.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $500,000 from the Lemelson Foundation) with the intention to creating a global facility, hosted in Brisbane.
Energy goes open source
The new green energy initiative, dubbed “energy open source” (EOS) is starting now and seeks to first create a network of interested individuals.
“In a few months we are announcing a new licensing agreement. The GPL was brilliant for software and so was Creative Commons for content, but we will publish it under Concord.”
The second step is to map the patent landscape of biofuels “so we can break monopolies” and then the next stage is to choose algal strains that will be most productive in producing biofuel.
EOS will create lab techniques to “domesticate” the energy producing algae and Jefferson estimates the techniques will start appearing in the next 18 months.
“There must be a 1000 companies set up to produce algal fuels,” he says. “They all need the same technology, but none of them are sharing it. Those tools are competitive and no company has the ability to develop it.”
“There’s a huge opportunity for us to do things right in biofuels. If we have an open source initiative to create a platform for green energy development then companies can develop public or proprietary products.”
Jefferson, who is also a professor of science, technology and law at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), says what is being proposed is nothing less than a revolution in environmental development.
Since using algae involves photosynthesis and consumes carbon dioxide in the process of making combustible fuel, Jefferson believes the potential is “utterly phenomenal”, and the fuel development is “carbon neutral” without impacting food production.
Biofuels than can be produced with this method are biodiesel, methane and even hydrogen.
“In Australia, we don’t need to know the technology to make energy work for us,” Jefferson says. “We have sunlight, salt water and the space, so we already have the production environment. It’s to Australia’s advantage to develop a global open source movement for green energy.”