Researchers to unlock codes for open source green energy

Australian scientist hopes greater patent transparency will lead to a worldwide open source platform for biological energy production.

Cambia chief executive and open source energy production technology researcher Richard Jefferson

Cambia chief executive and open source energy production technology researcher Richard Jefferson

This will require genetic engineering to be done on the algae, but such techniques are also improving with developing technology to do precise changes to a genome.

“It’s like making precise changes to your code,” he says. “Right now GMO (genetically modified organism) of plants is just like adding code which becomes bloatware. We want structured homologous recombination, which we will be 100 per cent focused on. We will then provide this to the community under Concord as an open source licence.”

Jefferson says it will likely take five years to develop the EOS platform, but everything will be done transparently and with public and regulatory scrutiny.

“The first challenge is to develop technology to do this [and] we are not trying to produce software, but a ‘biomolecular toolkit’. You can’t introduce DNA into algae without this stuff. Right now it’s easy for people to do software engineering but we don’t have that ability in the biosciences so we need to democratize it.”

“Just as we learned in software that Microsoft was not enough -- and Microsoft is now a better company with open source -- and Monsanto is not enough in agriculture, we can’t afford to make the same mistake with biofuels.”

“We need an open source platform where we can get countless practitioners building from a toolkit that is transparent to the public.”

Jefferson says the key lesson leaned with software is that industries do not need a monopoly company and by sharing the tools “we can solve this problem now”.

“Historic agriculture showed how us how to do it right -- farmers showed us how to do open source right and we screwed it up,” he says.

The challenge of sustainable energy development may be daunting, but Jefferson subscribes to the philosophy of “if you walk the right path, it may be easier than it seems”.

“The algae becomes a fuel manufacturing plant,” he says. What if the algae grew, then just bubbled away and consumed carbon dioxide and produced Hydrogen?”

“These should be scalable technologies that could be placed anywhere. Our intention is to make this a social enterprise. It’s perfectly acceptable for someone to create a new fomenter that is patented. And then someone will invent another type.”

The concept of biominetics -- where cyborgs act as organic photovoltaic systems -- is one practical outcome of the technology.

“You can use enzymes to product hydrogen, so you can imaging a quasi-organic biomimetic hydrogen production system,” Jefferson says, adding not a lot of materials is required.

The aim is within five years algae demonstration plants will be prototyped, within 10 to 12 years they will be a reality, and by 20 years they will become commonplace.

“We are starting a social movement and none of it can work without the patent system,” Jefferson says. “Genetic technologies need to be a public movement. If they are owned by only corporations, we will never have that.”

“Open source isn’t about freedom without responsibility, it’s about responsibility that leads to freedom.”

On December 9 this year, Jefferson will be announcing at a biofuels conference his plans for developing a world-wide open source platform for biological energy production.

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Tags open sourceBiotechnologyrenewable energyCambiaEnergy Open Source

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