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First Mode - Net zero, hydrogen

A group of men and women wearing yellow high visibility vests, stand shoulder to shoulder for a group photo during a factory tour.

Australian expertise helps First Mode transition miners to zero-emission trucks

Carbon reduction company First Mode has shipped its first battery system built in Australia to the US. The 264 kWh battery was transported to First Mode’s Proving Grounds, a former coal mine under active reclamation in Washington state, where the company tests its low-carbon and zero-emission ultra-class haul truck retrofit innovations. The battery will be specifically used in the company’s suite of electrified haulage solutions for decarbonising the mining and rail industry.

The battery was developed and built by engineers at First Mode’s facility in Perth, Western Australia. Operating since 2022, the facility’s personnel contribute to First Mode’s mission across a range of needs, including industry-leading battery design and development. To devise the battery, the Australian team drew on their deep understanding of mining environments to help ensure First Mode’s electrified retrofit solutions offer a competitive alternative to diesel-powered engines under real-world conditions.

‘For companies like First Mode looking to invest in clean technology, working in Australia is a no-brainer,’ says Rhae Adams, First Mode’s Chief Revenue Officer. ‘The country is at the forefront of rapid clean energy innovation, leveraging solutions to rapidly reduce national rates of greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrate its leadership in tackling one of the greatest global challenges of our time: climate change.’

Retrofitting vehicles for the clean energy future

Seattle-based First Mode develops and manufactures vehicle retrofits that convert the heavy haulage diesel fleets of mining and rail companies into low-carbon or zero-emissions vehicles. Its Path to Zero™ program offers three retrofit solutions to help customers start and progress on their path to net zero-emissions. To begin, First Mode integrates a regenerative battery within their customers’ diesel-powered vehicle, converting it into a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) that reduces fuel usage and carbon emissions by up to 25%. From there, customers can use First Mode’s product mix to build on the HEV rather than discard it. They can further convert their truck into a full battery electric vehicle (BEV) or hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), both of which are zero-emissions.

In 2022, First Mode partnered with mining giant Anglo American to design and build the world’s first and largest hydrogen-fuelled haul truck. The truck was deployed at one of Anglo American’s mines in South Africa as part of a year-long operational trial. The data from the trial showed that the FCEV is a competitive and viable alternative to its diesel engine equivalent.

First Mode will open its first factory in February 2024. It will manufacture low-carbon and zero-emission retrofit products and associated ground infrastructure for the BEV and FCEV solutions (HEV conversions require no infrastructure changes).

 

A group of men and women wearing green t-shirts pose for a group photo.
First Mode’s Perth engineering team who worked on the battery, with the battery packed and ready to ship behind them.

Leveraging Australia’s mining expertise

Australia’s expansive mining sector and engineering expertise were significant factors in attracting First Mode to the region. Western Australia is one of the world’s top mining destinations, home to major export-oriented projects and global miners. Locating its office in Perth would allow First Mode to draw on deep, local expertise in mining engineering and technology.

‘Perth’s proximity to Australian mining companies helped us deepen collaborations with key customers,’ says Adams. ‘Perth also offered exceptional engineers with first-hand knowledge of the complex problems we’re working to address. These elements have helped accelerate our mission to decarbonise heavy industry with sustainable and innovative solutions.’

Around 60 people – 15% of First Mode’s global workforce – work at the Perth facility, undertaking battery design and development, including energy storage. Most recently, the Australian technical team designed and built the low-voltage power distribution system for the battery management and control systems used across First Mode’s product mix. Other members of the Australian team also work with customers to better inform the company’s product roadmaps, assist with modelling and simulation studies, and prepare for on-site deployments.

‘First Mode’s work in Australia is fundamental to our global mission,’ says Adams. ‘The work we do here underscores our Perth facility not just as a regional hub, but also as an integral part of our global company.’

Helping Australian miners to decarbonise

Australia is also a major market for First Mode, given the country’s mining sector accounts for nearly 10% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Adams says the company’s decarbonisation products can help Australia achieve its ambition to transform to net zero by 2050.

‘We’re eager to collaborate with the Australian Government to align relevant programs with decarbonisation initiatives,’ says Adams. ‘We can bring heavy industry partners together to help them understand and overcome the barriers they face in adopting decarbonisation solutions.

‘We also applaud the numerous efforts of the Australian Government,’ says Adams. ‘ARENA and other entities are spearheading innovation with programs such as Hydrogen Headstart and Industrial Transformation Stream, which aim to reduce green premiums that often accompany emergent clean technologies. These will help spur widespread adoption.’

Austrade fosters crucial connections with government and customers

Austrade has been instrumental in facilitating First Mode's entry into the Australian market.

‘Austrade’s unwavering support has strengthened our credibility and fostered crucial connections with government agencies and potential customers,’ says Adams. ‘We are also grateful for Austrade’s strategic guidance and networking initiatives. These have been invaluable and helped lay the groundwork for successful collaborations by positioning First Mode as a key player in Australia's clean energy landscape.’

Austrade's continued support is helpful in maintaining key connections, identifying relevant programs, and facilitating engagements with potential customers in Australia. ‘Their proactive role in aligning First Mode with business opportunities has enhanced our presence and growth in the Australian market,’ says Adams.

‘Austrade not only advocates for our mission to decarbonise heavy industry but also amplifies our voice in championing sustainable solutions and practices. This ongoing collaboration strengthens our work to cultivate a clean energy future. We value Austrade's integral role in propelling First Mode's success in Australia.’

Local expertise key to market success

For global companies considering investment in Australia, Adams’ advice is to prioritise strong partnerships with local organisations and government bodies.

‘Establishing a collaborative approach that harnesses local expertise ensures a smoother entry into the market and deeper understanding of the relevant regulatory landscapes,’ he says.

‘Being in Australia really does feel like part of First Mode’s DNA at this point,’ adds Adams. ‘We’re grateful for the contributions to our company culture, values, and social initiatives that have come from the team. The coffee, wine and beaches aren’t bad either!’

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Published: 29 January 2024

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