Mining has come under scrutiny as the clean-energy transition continues across the globe. Because it is a historically polluting industry, companies are doing what they can to reduce carbon emissions effectively. With a heavy focus on vehicles, mining giant Anglo American entered a strategic partnership with engineering startup First Mode. The result was a two-story, zero-emission truck.
Anglo American plans to install clean-energy technology in other mining vehicles, but this massive truck stands as the company’s flagship zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV). First Mode designed the engine to use hydrogen fuel cells and batteries instead of diesel. While it’s not a like-for-like change, the move to hydrogen power will save tons of diesel fuel — Anglo American uses nearly 1 billion liters (264,172,052 gallons) of diesel annually.
“Climate change and energy security are the paramount challenges of our time, and I am so proud this will be First Mode’s focus as we enter this next phase of growth,” said Chris Voorhees, president and CEO of First Mode.
He continued by saying that the modern era has presented problems that seem almost impossible to find viable solutions. Yet, the engineering firm is building incredible technology to combat climate change.
Pilot tests of the zero-emission truck started in May 2022. Anglo American’s mine in South Africa served as the test site. By October 2022, the vehicle was in regular use. Using an active mine as testing grounds provided engineers valuable feedback on performance while workers got more comfortable with the new technology. These are the baby steps toward mining’s carbon-neutral future.
In 2021, the mining giant acquired a 10% strategic equity stake in First Mode, signaling a commitment to production and implementation of the nuGen™ engine tech.
The engineering startup was then acquired by Anglo American in a $1.5 billion transaction, making the firm a majority shareholder.
However, the hauling truck is just the beginning. Anglo American has set lofty carbon neutrality goals for 2040, including decarbonizing around 400 industrial vehicles globally. They also plan to expand corporate operations to places like Australia, furthering the need for ZEVs.
The early success of the retrofitted truck has emphasized creating the nuGen™ ZEHS line. In a press release published on June 30, 2022, First Mode plans to expand the production hub in Seattle. Upon completion and integration into vehicles, they will be tested in Centralia, WA. In addition to the hydrogen fuel engines, First Mode is creating clean-energy mining infrastructure, such as hydrogen power plants for refueling and battery recharging.
“The First Mode Proving Grounds in Centralia is a critical next step in our mission to help heavy industry eliminate diesel and transition to clean energy,” Voorhees said. “The site will support both the optimization of ultra-class haul trucks and the full infrastructure associated with diesel-free mobility and the production and distribution of clean energy.”
Of course, there are other environmental issues associated with mining. Diesel fuel aside, cleaner trucks are only one part of the significant emission problem. Crushing, smelting, and refining minerals are also major contributors. However, shifting to hydrogen power can make a huge difference. Eliminating the emissions from vehicles is a good start.
“Our vision is to develop turnkey decarbonization strategies across heavy industries like rail, mining, and maritime, providing the same level of service that operators are used to today,” said Rhae Adams, chief operating officer of First Mode.