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.\nJefferson 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)\nCambia 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.\n\u201cYou can\u2019t just shoehorn open source licensing into biofuels,\u201d Jefferson says. \u201cWe 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\u2019re trying to render the patent system so we can mine it for inventions. That\u2019s laying the ground work for green energy.\u201d\nAnd developing open source for green energy is empowered by the IOI.\n\u201cThat can\u2019t happen if IOI doesn\u2019t happen first,\u201d Jefferson says. \u201cThe 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.\u201d\nThe 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.\nEnergy goes open source\nThe new green energy initiative, dubbed \u201cenergy open source\u201d (EOS) is starting now and seeks to first create a network of interested individuals.\n\u201cIn 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.\u201d\nThe second step is to map the patent landscape of biofuels \u201cso we can break monopolies\u201d and then the next stage is to choose algal strains that will be most productive in producing biofuel.\nEOS will create lab techniques to \u201cdomesticate\u201d the energy producing algae and Jefferson estimates the techniques will start appearing in the next 18 months.\n\u201cThere must be a 1000 companies set up to produce algal fuels,\u201d he says. \u201cThey 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.\u201d\n\u201cThere\u2019s 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.\u201d\nJefferson, 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.\nSince using algae involves photosynthesis and consumes carbon dioxide in the process of making combustible fuel, Jefferson believes the potential is \u201cutterly phenomenal\u201d, and the fuel development is \u201ccarbon neutral\u201d without impacting food production.\nBiofuels than can be produced with this method are biodiesel, methane and even hydrogen.\n\u201cIn Australia, we don\u2019t need to know the technology to make energy work for us,\u201d Jefferson says. \u201cWe have sunlight, salt water and the space, so we already have the production environment. It\u2019s to Australia\u2019s advantage to develop a global open source movement for green energy.\u201d\nPage Break\nUse infrastructure technology, don\u2019t own it\nJefferson cited Google as an example of a company that doesn\u2019t make money selling software, but by using it.\n\u201cThe fetish for ownership will kill us in biofuels. We need to make money on energy, not the production of energy.\u201d\nFive years ago Jefferson helped launch the BiOS initiative to \u201crip away\u201d Monsanto\u2019s monopoly on genetic plant engineering.\n\u201cBiOS is biological open source and has little to do with the rhetoric of freedom,\u201d he says. \u201cIt\u2019s 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.\u201d\nJefferson says there is no one silver bullet for energy, but the toolkits for algal and plant manipulation are key.\n\u201cYou 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\u2019t have food production to keep up with population growth.\u201d\nJefferson says ICT is now \u201cbuilt on open source\u201d and companies can use their money on competitive advantage, not waste it on infrastructure software.\nRegarding 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.\n\u201cThey don\u2019t mind that this impacts software development. We are leveraging funding in one area to enhance another.\u201d\nDomesticated Algae? Key to renewable energy\nAccording 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.\n\u201cIf you look at the most productive crop in the world it is maize. By domesticating a plant we produced a food,\u201d he says. \u201cPeople who are farming algae are farming a weed, an undomesticated plant. We need the right species, and it will be a domesticated species.\u201d\n\u201cThe stuff we get now is okay, but what we will get by improving algae will be a lot better.\u201d\nPage Break\nThis 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.\n\u201cIt\u2019s like making precise changes to your code,\u201d he says. \u201cRight 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.\u201d\nJefferson says it will likely take five years to develop the EOS platform, but everything will be done transparently and with public and regulatory scrutiny.\n\u201cThe first challenge is to develop technology to do this [and] we are not trying to produce software, but a \u2018biomolecular toolkit\u2019. You can\u2019t introduce DNA into algae without this stuff. Right now it\u2019s easy for people to do software engineering but we don\u2019t have that ability in the biosciences so we need to democratize it.\u201d\n\u201cJust 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\u2019t afford to make the same mistake with biofuels.\u201d\n\u201cWe need an open source platform where we can get countless practitioners building from a toolkit that is transparent to the public.\u201d\nJefferson says the key lesson leaned with software is that industries do not need a monopoly company and by sharing the tools \u201cwe can solve this problem now\u201d.\n\u201cHistoric agriculture showed how us how to do it right -- farmers showed us how to do open source right and we screwed it up,\u201d he says.\nThe challenge of sustainable energy development may be daunting, but Jefferson subscribes to the philosophy of \u201cif you walk the right path, it may be easier than it seems\u201d.\n\u201cThe algae becomes a fuel manufacturing plant,\u201d he says. What if the algae grew, then just bubbled away and consumed carbon dioxide and produced Hydrogen?\u201d\n\u201cThese should be scalable technologies that could be placed anywhere. Our intention is to make this a social enterprise. It\u2019s perfectly acceptable for someone to create a new fomenter that is patented. And then someone will invent another type.\u201d\nThe concept of biominetics -- where cyborgs act as organic photovoltaic systems -- is one practical outcome of the technology.\n\u201cYou can use enzymes to product hydrogen, so you can imaging a quasi-organic biomimetic hydrogen production system,\u201d Jefferson says, adding not a lot of materials is required.\nThe 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.\n\u201cWe are starting a social movement and none of it can work without the patent system,\u201d Jefferson says. \u201cGenetic technologies need to be a public movement. If they are owned by only corporations, we will never have that.\u201d\n\u201cOpen source isn\u2019t about freedom without responsibility, it\u2019s about responsibility that leads to freedom.\u201d\nOn 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.