Cody Friesen PhD ’04, an associate professor of materials science at Arizona State University and founder of both Fluidic Energy and Zero Mass Water, was awarded the 2019 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for invention. Friesen has dedicated his career to inventing solutions that address two of the biggest challenges to social and economic advancement in the developing world: access to fresh water and reliable energy. His renewable water and energy technologies help fight climate change while providing valuable resources to underserved communities.
Friesen’s first company, Fluidic Energy, was formed to commercialize and deploy the world’s first, and only, rechargeable metal-air battery, which can withstand many thousands of discharges. The technology has provided backup power during approximately 1 million long-duration outages, while simultaneously offsetting thousands of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The batteries are currently being used as a secondary energy source on four continents at thousands of critical load sites and in dozens of microgrids. Several million people have benefited from access to reliable energy as a result of the technology. Fluidic Energy has been renamed NantEnergy, with Patrick Soon-Shiong investing significantly in the continued global expansion of the technology.
Currently, Friesen’s efforts are focused on addressing the global water crisis through his company, Zero Mass Water. Friesen invented SOURCE Hydropanels, which are solar panels that make drinking water from sunlight and air. The invention is a true leapfrog technology and can make drinking water in dry conditions with as low as 5 percent relative humidity. SOURCE has been deployed in 33 countries spanning six continents. The hydropanels are providing clean drinking water in communities, refugee camps, government offices, hotels, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and homes around the world.
“As inventors, we have a responsibility to ensure our technology serves all of humanity, not simply the elite,” says Friesen. “At the end of the day, our work is about impact, and this recognition propels us forward as we deploy SOURCE Hydropanels to change the human relationship to water across the globe.”
Friesen joins a long lineage of inventors to receive the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest cash prize for invention in the United States for 25 years. He will be donating his prize to a project with Conservation International to provide clean drinking water via SOURCE Hydropanels to the Bahia Hondita community in Colombia.
“Cody’s inventive spirit, fueled by his strong desire to help improve the lives of people everywhere, is an inspiring role model for future generations,” says Michael Cima, faculty director for the Lemelson-MIT Program and associate dean of innovation for the MIT School of Engineering. “Water scarcity is a prominent global issue, which Cody is combating through technology and innovation. We are excited that the use of this award will further elevate his work.”
“Cody Friesen embodies what it means to be an impact inventor,” notes Carol Dahl, executive director at the Lemelson Foundation. “His inventions are truly improving lives, take into account environmental considerations, and have become the basis for companies that impact millions of people around the world each year. We are honored to recognize Dr. Friesen as this year’s LMIT Prize winner.”
Friesen will speak at EmTech MIT, the annual conference on emerging technologies hosted by MIT Technology Review at the MIT Media Lab on Sept. 18 at 5 p.m.