Washington State supports First Mode’s zero-emission tech testbed

A hydrogen-powered power plant designed and built by First Mode in Seattle was installed in this Anglo-American van at a platinum mine in South Africa, creating the world’s largest zero-emission vehicle. (photo in first mode)

First Mode, the clean energy company that recently transitioned from a Seattle startup to an Anglo-American subsidiary, is getting a boost from Washington state.

The Washington State Department of Commerce awarded $250,000 in economic development funding to the Economic Alliance of Lewis County to assist First Mode with the design and construction costs of the company’s future facility in Centralia, Washington.

First Mode plans to convert a former coal mine leased by TransAlta into a proving ground for its hydrogen-powered hybrid powertrain for heavy mining trucks. The zoning provides for 7,500 square feet of office space and 20,000 square feet of outdoor courtyard space with the option to expand.

The powertrains were developed at First Mode’s Seattle lab, and last year a prototype truck made its debut at a platinum mine in South Africa.

Ultimately, Anglo American plans to have hundreds of ultra-class dump trucks converted to hydrogen and battery power by First Mode. The technology for the trucks as well as the refueling and charging infrastructure are being tested at the Centralia site.

First Mode moved its headquarters from Seattle to London as part of its $1.5 billion transaction with Anglo American, a global mining company. Despite the headquarters move, First Mode CEO Julian Soles said the Pacific Northwest was the perfect location for the company’s proving ground.

“The extensive knowledge and experience of the Centralia community, coupled with Washington State’s leadership in clean energy innovation, are key to the success of First Mode’s work,” Soles said in a press release today. “We started by retrofitting a diesel engine with a clean power unit in a single van. We are now scaling our capabilities and operations to bring the mining industry one step closer to decarbonization.”

Jay Inslee, Gov. of Washington, spoke about the Pacific Northwest’s role in pioneering clean energy. “No other US region is better positioned to address the game-changing challenge of developing and commercializing heavy industry decarbonization technologies,” he said.

Founded in 2018, First Mode primarily focused on engineering solutions for space missions, but over time turned to clean energy technology and caught the attention of Anglo American. The business combination, which closed in January, merged First Mode with Anglo American’s NuGen effort to develop zero-emission vans.

Richard DeBolt, executive director of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County, said First Mode’s Centralia project was “the beginning of understanding new technologies.”

“It puts Lewis County in the future of Hydrogen Valley and will create clusters of opportunity for the future,” DeBolt said.

A nonprofit public-private partnership called the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association is preparing a proposal to the US Department of Energy for a potential $1 billion investment in a regional clean hydrogen hub in the Pacific Northwest.

Meanwhile, an Australian company, Fortescue Future Industries, has been exploring the feasibility of building a green hydrogen production facility at the site of the Centralia mine – and has signed a memorandum of understanding with Puget Sound Energy to accelerate the clean energy transition in the Pacific Northwest.

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