Above: First Mode’s proof-of-concept HEV was successfully demonstrated in a controlled test area at our proving grounds in Washington, USA. © First Mode 2023
By Julian Soles, CEO
As we approach the end of a transformative year for First Mode, I have been reflecting on our mission to decarbonise heavy industry and address the climate crisis through innovation. This work centres on one essential fact: as heavy industry mines, moves, and transforms the minerals required for the global clean energy transition, it also contributes to planet-warming pollution and may soon become the largest source of it globally unless we act.
At First Mode, we view complex challenges as opportunities. This year proved no different when we leveraged proof-of-concept work to develop a suite of electrified retrofit products that can immediately reduce, and ultimately eliminate, carbon emissions from heavy industry’s existing haulage fleets.
While the talent and ingenuity of the First Mode team cannot be understated, it is the range of contributions from key customers over the last year that I want to share with you today. In this piece, I look back on two engagements that especially shaped our progress in 2023.
A New Company with a Proven Vision
In January 2023, First Mode – then a Seattle, Washington, based engineering services firm – merged with its longstanding customer, the nuGen™ technology group that I was leading at Anglo American. Together, we formed a brand-new company under the First Mode name with the ambitious goal of electrifying heavy industry’s ultra-class haul trucks, which emit over 35 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas each year!
Key elements of the business combination, including a capital investment and supply agreement with Anglo American, helped accelerate our efforts. However, it was the DT74 proof-of-concept hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) truck, developed by First Mode in partnership with Anglo American, that put us on the map as a uniquely capable and game-changing disruptor.
By May, after a successful year of trials at Anglo American’s Platinum Group Metals mine site in Mogalakwena, South Africa, we had proved for the first time that zero-emission mine haulage can operationally compete, integrate with existing diesel fleets, and be a viable zero-emission alternative to diesel. The learnings from this trial were also indispensable to our product development roadmaps because they confirmed which areas to focus on to deliver a commercial solution to our customers.
Customer Feedback Helps Chart a Diversified Path
Heavy haulage innovations vary significantly in their upfront investment requirements. Some may also require infrastructure shifts beyond a mine site’s immediate control, such as clean hydrogen’s maturing supply chain. These considerations among several others were shared with us mid-year by a range of customers eager to strengthen their entry points for decarbonisation, including through the adoption of our FCEV solution.
Their feedback was invaluable, pushing us to further de-risk and empower decarbonisation as the hydrogen economy continues to grow. With world-class speed and agility, we expanded our product line to include a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) retrofit, which helps customers bridge to zero emissions at a pace that works for them on a timeline that they control.
Importantly, while our HEV solution leverages regenerative braking to deliver immediate fuel savings and reduce emissions by up to 25%, it is the solution’s design as a versatile feedforward platform that sets it apart from the rest. Nothing like it exists in the market today because it enables customers to seamlessly build on it – rather than discard it and their initial investment – when they and the broader supply chain are ready to convert their fleets into zero emissions vehicles using either First Mode’s full battery or hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrains.
Onward For People and Planet
Since announcing our expanded product line in October, and successfully demonstrating the HEV’s first motion at our proving grounds in December, the positive customer feedback and pre-sale orders in the door confirm the path ahead. There is work to do and climate impact yet to be realized, but momentum is definitely building as we advance our solutions through commercial production in 2024 and deployment by 2025.
First Mode is equipped to achieve these goals. Completed in December, our factory is one of the largest clean technology manufacturing facilities in Seattle, Washington. It is also designed to be a digitally configurable, high-change velocity environment with production processes that can adjust and meet manufacturing needs across all our electrified products.
To our brilliant team, dedicated customers, and valued partners, thank you for making 2023 such a pivotal period of growth for First Mode. I am immensely proud of the progress we have made together and look forward to our continued collaborations in the new year.
Originally posted on LinkedIn.
About First Mode
First Mode develops and manufactures decarbonization solutions for heavy industry partners dedicated to the clean energy future. With a product mix of vehicle retrofits that enable diesel hybrid, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell systems, we accelerate mining and rail fleets on their Path to Zero™. Our full solutions suite, including infrastructure and haulage systems innovations, proves decarbonization is possible even in constrained environments — for people and planet. Learn more at www.firstmode.com.