First Mode forges $13.5M agreement with Anglo American to develop mining tech


An ultra-class haul truck carries tons of ore. (Anglo American Photo)

First Mode, a Seattle engineering firm founded by veterans of the Planetary Resources asteroid mining venture, says it’ll be working on innovations for the earthly mining industry under the terms of a three-year, $13.5 million agreement with Anglo American.

The deal demonstrates that First Mode is branching out from space applications, a year after it was founded.

The company has been providing design, engineering and system development services for projects including NASA’s next Mars rover, the Psyche mission to an iron-rich asteroid, the Europa Clipper spacecraft and a proposed moon rover — but Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, is its first announced client for terrestrial technologies.

Anglo American’s mining portfolio includes diamonds, platinum-group metals, copper and iron ore. Mining isn’t generally known as an environmentally friendly industry, but in recent years, Anglo American has been pursuing a FutureSmart Mining initiative to make its activities more sustainable.

Hydrogen-powered truck
A rendering shows the components of a hydrogen-fueled mine haul truck. (Anglo American Graphic)

“Mining produces the resources needed for a cleaner, more sustainable planet,” Chris Voorhees, First Mode’s president and chief engineer, said in a news release.

First Mode is already involved in Anglo American’s systems engineering, integration and test program for the world’s largest hydrogen-powered mine haul truck.

“We are pleased to be partnering with First Mode, and we look forward to developing and implementing a number of innovative technologies over the coming years,” said Tony O’Neill, technical director of Anglo American. “This work supports our trajectory towards our carbon and energy targets for 2030 and, ultimately, our vision of carbon-neutral mining.”

Voorhees said the mine truck project, which is due to go into testing next year, will be “an important step in making the natural resources sector carbon-neutral from start to finish.”

The truck is being designed to haul 300 metric tons of ore — initially at Anglo American’s Mogalakwena platinum-group metals mine in South Africa, and eventually at the company’s other mines. Solar or wind energy would power the production of hydrogen fuel through water electrolysis.

First Mode said it would be developing other technologies for the FutureSmart Mining initiative. The work would include technology trade studies, engineering design, prototype development, technology demonstrations, delivery of integrated systems and deployment to work sites.

Rhae Adams, First Mode’s vice president of business development, said Anglo American will be “a perfect partner to help fulfill our team’s vision of a future based on renewable energy.”

In a follow-up email, Adams said the deal is the result of his company’s engagement with potential customers in the mining industry.

“This is one result of those efforts to diversify into other industries,” he said. “While space is still certainly a growing business line, we’re extra excited to put our skills to use here to improve planet Earth.”

First Mode currently has 28 full-time employees, with plans to expand to 30 by January and to 60 by this time next year, Adams said.

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