Lewis County could well become a symbol of Washington state's robust and growing clean energy economy when zero-emission trucks the height of three-story buildings are seen rolling around the First Mode Proving Grounds later this year.
First Mode, a global carbon reduction company that developed the world's first integrated battery and hydrogen fuel cell powerplants for retrofitting the behemoth diesel-powered trucks, has established a proving grounds in Centralia, thanks in part to a $250,000 grant from the state economic development strategic reserve fund.
The Department of Commerce awarded the funds to the Economic Alliance of Lewis County to assist First Mode with design and construction costs for office and workshop space the company plans to renovate and expand at the former coal mine site leased from TransAlta. The First Mode Proving Grounds will help the company accelerate the transition to clean energy for heavy industry, while supporting new uses for the infrastructure at the former mine site. The site is an ideal location, allowing haul trucks to operate in a true mining environment.
Following the successful deployment of a proof-of-concept hydrogen mine haul truck at Anglo American's platinum mine in Mogalakwena, South Africa in May 2022, First Mode leased land and office space at the TransAlta Centralia Mine and announced plans in October for the proving grounds. First Mode manufactures its proprietary hybrid fuel cell battery powerplants in Seattle, where the company was founded in 2018.
"The extensive knowledge and experience of the Centralia community, coupled with Washington state's leadership on clean energy innovation, are key to the success of First Mode's work," said First Mode CEO Julian Soles. "We started with retrofitting a diesel engine with a clean energy powerplant in a single haul truck. We are now scaling our capabilities and deployments to move the mining industry another step closer to decarbonization."
"No other U.S. region is better positioned to tackle the game-changing challenge of developing and commercializing technologies for decarbonizing heavy industry," said Gov. Jay Inslee. "Establishment of the First Mode Proving Grounds is an exciting next step for Washington state and the Pacific Northwest."
"This project is the beginning of understanding new technology," said Richard DeBolt, Executive Director of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County. "It brings Lewis County into the future of the hydrogen valley and will create opportunity clusters for the future."
At the First Mode Proving Grounds, the company will demonstrate performance and optimize the next generation of hybrid hydrogen and battery-powered haul trucks, as well as the associated infrastructure for recharging and refueling, that will be deployed at mines around the world. The standard version of these trucks today consumes enormous amounts of diesel, emitting the equivalent pollutants of 700 passenger cars. First Mode's pilot retrofit solution is estimated to save 960 metric tons of diesel fuel per truck each year.
State and Lewis County Economic Alliance officials are optimistic that this project could lead to a significant supply chain and additional economic development in the region as First Mode builds toward full scale commercialization and mass production of megawatt class FCEV powerplant modules.
"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. "First Mode is an important member of our growing clean hydrogen ecosystem."
Brown chairs the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association (PNWH2) Board, a nonprofit public-private partnership that is preparing a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy for a potential $1 billion investment in a regional clean hydrogen hub in the Pacific Northwest.