Cody Friesen

Creates renewable energy technologies
Winner

Cody Friesen is an inventor who develops renewable energy technologies that directly benefit people around the globe. His inventions include a solar-driven technology that generates water from air and a rechargeable metal-air battery. To date, Friesen has successfully founded two companies that are improving access to energy and clean drinking water with the help of his inventions.

Growing up in Arizona, Friesen was always fascinated by the juxtaposition of landscapes existing in his native state—from the terrain he encountered on hikes as a teenager, to the cotton fields and citrus orchards sustained by a system of irrigation canals created by Native Americans, to the vast and arid deserts. With nature providing such a disparate playground outside his back door, it’s no wonder Friesen showed interest in science from a young age. After studying Materials Science and Engineering at Arizona State University (ASU), he went on to earn a PhD in the same discipline at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He returned to ASU in 2004 where he now serves as an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

At ASU, Friesen works to turn his innovative ideas into high-impact advancements for society. One of Friesen’s endeavors was to find a way to augment the sustainability, cost, and energy density of energy storage. His solution became the world’s first and only rechargeable metal-air battery. In 2007, Friesen commercialized this technology through the creation of a company called Fluidic Energy. The company has since provided power during about a million long-duration grid outages while offsetting thousands of tons of CO2 emissions due to the batteries’ replacement of diesel generators. The batteries are installed at sites in nine countries across four continents. In 2018, Fluidic was sold and renamed NantEnergy with the expanded capital further broadening its global reach.

Friesen’s second company, Zero Mass Water, is bringing clean drinking water to people in 33 different countries across six continents. After traveling extensively in South East Asia and Central America, regions that see significant rainfall yet struggle to provide enough clean water to drink, Friesen wanted to help solve the drinking water issue. Since the water crisis is predicted to affect many more populations around the world in the coming decades, Friesen believed there was a way and a need to develop a technology that would democratize water so that clean water is more accessible to a greater number of people. He and his team went to work in his lab, developing the materials science and experimenting with the thermodynamics of water vapor in air.

Friesen’s work resulted in the SOURCE Hydropanel—a new kind of solar panel that makes drinking water from nothing but sunlight and air. The Hydropanels require no electricity or piped water so even the most remote areas are able to implement the system. Zero Mass Water was founded to bring SOURCE to the world. In fact, the company’s impact has already been far-reaching, from schools in Mexico, to Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, to fire stations in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The technology is also being used throughout the United States in homes, schools, and offices.

Friesen’s inventive work to improve the lives of people in all areas of the world has earned him the 2019 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for invention.

An important part of Friesen’s mission is to mentor young people. At ASU he founded the ASU Innovation Open, a competition that awards over $250,000 annually and offers mentorship and guidance to student entrepreneurs. Friesen personally donated $25,000 in prize money for the competition, which he continues to support through Zero Mass Water. He also has donated over 15 full scholarships totaling $89,000 to high-performing ASU students with financial needs. Friesen is donating the Lemelson-MIT prize money to a project that Zero Mass Water has in the works with Conservation International to provide SOURCE Hydropanels to a Bahia Hondita community in Colombia.

Friesen is also a Senior Sustainability Scientist at the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability, a Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute, and recently became a Braddock Scholar of The Aspen Institute. Additionally, he was named one of the top 35 innovators under age 35 in MIT’s Technology Review in 2009. He previously served two terms as the co-chair of the Energy subcommittee on the U.S. Manufacturing Council for the U.S. Department of Commerce.