Use infrastructure technology, don’t own it
Jefferson cited Google as an example of a company that doesn’t make money selling software, but by using it.
“The fetish for ownership will kill us in biofuels. We need to make money on energy, not the production of energy.”
Five years ago Jefferson helped launch the BiOS initiative to “rip away” Monsanto’s monopoly on genetic plant engineering.
“BiOS is biological open source and has little to do with the rhetoric of freedom,” he says. “It’s about efficiency. Open source does the low-level software really well. Open source is an enormously powerful tool for driving efficiency. Cloud vendors make a lot of money without selling software, and biofuels can learn the same lessons.”
Jefferson says there is no one silver bullet for energy, but the toolkits for algal and plant manipulation are key.
“You can do it with land plants, but they have a role in the environment and they require fresh water. And this requires disruption of soils. If it is arable land it will disrupt the food production cycle. We already don’t have food production to keep up with population growth.”
Jefferson says ICT is now “built on open source” and companies can use their money on competitive advantage, not waste it on infrastructure software.
Regarding the role of the Gates Foundation, Jefferson it is passionate about health in Africa and so it wanted patent transparency for drug development which led to Patent Lens.
“They don’t mind that this impacts software development. We are leveraging funding in one area to enhance another.”
Domesticated Algae? Key to renewable energy
According to Jefferson, a ton of research has been done on molecular biofuels, but the right algae species for biofuels will need to be of a domestic variety.
“If you look at the most productive crop in the world it is maize. By domesticating a plant we produced a food,” he says. “People who are farming algae are farming a weed, an undomesticated plant. We need the right species, and it will be a domesticated species.”
“The stuff we get now is okay, but what we will get by improving algae will be a lot better.”