Last year, First Mode became a decarbonization product innovation company dedicated to eliminating diesel from heavy industry – and we’ve been “pedal to the metal” ever since. As we head full force into the new year, we’re excited to reflect on the milestones and achievements that defined First Mode’s journey in 2023, with a focus on progress and innovation. Join us for a closer look at our biggest milestones of the year!
Secured $200 Million to Form Brand-New Company
In January 2023, the expression “new year, new you” took on a whole new meaning for First Mode. We finalized our $200M business combination with a longstanding client, the nuGen™ Technology Group within Anglo American, to form a brand-new independent company under the First Mode name. As a result of the business combination, First Mode opened an office in London and welcomed the former head of Anglo American’s nuGen™ Technology Group, Julian Soles, as our new Chief Executive Officer.
Named One of Seattle’s Best Places to Work
Employment search platform Built In annually publishes a list of the best places to work in each major city across the U.S. While 2023 was the fourth consecutive year that First Mode was named by Built In as “Seattle Best Places to Work” and “Seattle Best Midsize Places to Work”, it was the first time we received these honors as the product innovation company that we are today.
Awarded Washington State Department of Commerce Grant to Further Develop Our Proving Grounds
In February, First Mode Proving Grounds in Centralia received a $250,000 grant from the state economic development strategic reserve fund. “Support for robust public-private innovation clusters in prime industry sectors is central to our long-term strategy. We are developing regional hubs that will create and sustain new business opportunities and good jobs in communities throughout Washington state,” said Washington State Commerce Director Lisa Brown in a press release on the grant award. “First Mode is an important member of our growing clean hydrogen ecosystem.”
This investment kickstarted our efforts to operationalize the site – in partnership with TransAlta – for testing, demonstrating, and commercializing decarbonization solutions for ultra-class haulage in a real-world environment.
Signed Two Different Orders with Ballard Power Systems
In Spring, we announced back-to-back orders for Ballard Power Systems to supply First Mode with a total of 90 hydrogen fuel cell modules by 2024. Used in our hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) powertrains, Ballard’s modules deliver the duty cycle performance required for ultra-class mining haul trucks to operate effectively without the use of diesel.
Recognized by Fast Company for our “World Changing Ideas”
Our proof-of-concept FCEV retrofit haulage solution, developed by First Mode in partnership with Anglo American, proved the impossible possible and helped us earn multiple recognitions from Fast Company through their “World Changing Ideas” Award Program – as the winner of the Mid-Sized Business Category; Finalist for Sustainability/Energy and General Excellence honors; and Honorable Mention in the Climate and North America categories.
Expanded our Supply of Key ABB Power Systems
Next up, we announced an order for ABB to supply First Mode with 80 BORDLINE® ESS lithium-ion battery systems. Totaling 2.6 megawatt-hours, the batteries will be assembled into larger battery packs and integrated into First Mode’s low carbon and zero-emissions solutions for mining and rail haulage.
Exceeded Performance Targets for Proof-of-Concept Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle
Developed by First Mode in partnership with Anglo American, our proof-of-concept FCEV haul truck successfully completed one full year of operational trials in Anglo American’s Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) mine site in Mogalakwena, South Africa. The truck data – which have informed our commercial product development roadmaps – proved for the first time that zero-emission mine haulage can operationally compete, integrate with existing diesel fleets, and be a viable alternative to diesel.
Broke Ground on Our Smart Manufacturing Facility
In July, supported with an Evergreen Manufacturing Grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce, construction of our first factory began in Seattle, Washington. Outfitted with state-of-the-art smart digitalization and automation tools, the factory is designed to be a digitally configurable, high-change velocity environment equipped to manufacture all our decarbonizing powertrains and related ground infrastructure. It will also be one of the largest clean technology manufacturing facilities in the city.
“We’re incredibly pleased that First Mode is establishing its first manufacturing facility in Seattle,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “Seattle has always been known for big, progress-driving ideas, and this announcement speaks to our continued status as a hub for innovation and being on the cutting edge of world-changing technology. We look forward to how this state-of-the-art facility helps First Mode achieve its mission of decarbonizing heavy industry, brings clean energy jobs to our city, and builds a more sustainable future for the next generation.”
Expanded Our Product Line to Include Hybrid EV and Full Battery EV Retrofit Solutions
In October, we announced that our Path to Zero™ program now includes Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) and full Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) retrofit solutions. Notably, our HEV adds a First Mode regenerative battery to an existing diesel-powered vehicle, immediately reducing its carbon emissions by up to 25%. In addition, our HEV can be seamlessly upgraded at any point to either our BEV or FCEV solution, ensuring customers’ upfront investment today feeds forward to a zero-emissions solution tomorrow.
Like our HEV Retrofit option, our BEV Retrofit leverages regenerative braking but then completes the platform conversion into a fully electrified powertrain by removing the diesel engine entirely.
Rounding out the product trio is our next-generation FCEV Retrofit, which converts existing diesel-powered vehicles into clean liquid hydrogen-powered vehicles. The FCEV Retrofit also makes use of First Mode’s high-speed liquid hydrogen refueling system and clean hydrogen sourcing program.
Selected by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for Two Potential Hydrogen Hub Grants
In collaboration with key local partners, First Mode was selected to advance award negotiations for two projects as part of the US DOE Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program, a public-private investment strategy aimed at creating tens of thousands of jobs while jumpstarting America’s clean hydrogen economy. First Mode is honored to engage with partners on next steps as we work together to combat the climate crisis by scaling heavy industry’s Path to Zero™ emissions. The DOE is expected to finalize award negotiations in early to mid-2024.
Built and Shipped a Novel Battery Pack to Inform Future Product Development
First Mode’s engineering team in Perth, Australia, celebrated months of hard work and the formal send-off in November of an innovative battery solution for use at our Proving Grounds in Centralia, Washington (USA). The design and engineering of the approximately 260 kWh battery has proven a key milestone in the advancement of next-generation electrified haulage solutions for our customers.
Joined Washington Governor Inslee on Trade Mission to Australia
After welcoming Governor Jay Inslee at First Mode Seattle in October, we joined him and a diverse delegation from the private, public, and non-profit sectors on a trade mission to Australia. The mission was a unique opportunity to strengthen existing trade relationships and exchange insights on confronting the shared challenge of climate change through innovation.
Awarded Carbon Innovation Grant from Western Australia Government
As one of nine recipients of the first round of Western Australia’s Carbon Innovation Grants Program, created to tackle industrial carbon emissions, First Mode received $500,000 AUD in funding to support our continual work decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors like rail – and specific work to accelerate our partners’ development of a cleaner, more sustainable heavy rail network across the country.
Demonstrated our Hybrid EV as a New Entry Point on the Path to Zero™
Before closing out the year, we successfully demonstrated our HEV Retrofit at the First Mode Proving Grounds. Driven by customer demand, our HEV retrofit leverages regenerative braking to reduce the existing diesel engine’s carbon emissions by up to 25% without any additional infrastructure requirements. It also serves as the de-risked platform on which either our zero-emissions BEV or FCEV retrofit solution can be built – on a timeline that customers control.
In 2024, we’ll scale its production ahead of commercial deployment in 2025.
Our Clear Path Forward
Looking ahead, 2024 holds exciting prospects as we continue our pursuit of groundbreaking solutions to accelerate the clean energy transition. With a focus on expanding our production, refining our initiatives, and fostering relationships that drive positive change, First Mode will embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Onward together – for people and planet.