Southwest Airlines Invests in Sustainable Fuel

DOE matched Southwest’s donation to encourage sustainable fuel production
Read Time: 3 minutes
Oct 26, 2022

The aviation industry has been looking for ways to embrace sustainability and environmentally friendly practices to help offset the carbon footprint involved with air travel. These measures have included sustainable airports and more. Another recent effort is Southwest Airlines’ investment in sustainable fuel.

Southwest Airlines Invests in SAFFiRE Renewables, LLC

a Southwest Airlines aircraft loading baggage, catering, and passengers

In 2021, Southwest Airlines announced that it would be investing in SAFFiRE Renewables, LLC as a part of a project backed by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) with the purpose of supporting sustainable fuels. As a part of this project, the DOE matched the investment made by Southwest Airlines with a grant of its own.

What Is the DOE’s Renewable Fuels Project?

The Department of Energy is investing millions of dollars into companies that are producing sustainable aviation fuels. The government agency is doing this to encourage both companies that produce sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and organizations with a stake in the aviation industry to work towards producing and using more renewable fuel options instead of those based on fossil fuels.

What Is SAFFiRE Renewables?

SAFFiRE Renewables is a company dedicated to producing sustainable fuels. The company creates fuels from corn stover, which is a byproduct of feedstock. It’s typically considered waste and would therefore normally be thrown away or left to decompose on farmers’ fields. The company treats this corn stover and then turns it into ethanol that can be used to make jet fuel.

How Does SAFFiRE Renewables Turn Corn Stover into Sustainable Aviation Fuel?

process of turning corn stover into sustainable aviation fuel process of turning corn stover into sustainable aviation fuel

SAFFiRE uses the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in order to convert the corn stover waste materials into ethanol. NERL is an organization that seeks to transform how we use energy through research and development of renewable energy sources. Using NREL’s technology to refine the corn stover, SAFFiRE can then turn it into ethanol for use in fuel.

Why Is Corn Stover-Based Fuel Considered Sustainable?

corn stover left over in a farm field after harvest

Corn stover-based fuel is considered sustainable because corn stover itself is a renewable resource. It’s a by-product of agriculture that will continue to be produced. Every year, farmers will create more corn stover that would otherwise just be left to rot. Instead, it can be turned into fuel rather than relying on limited resources to create fuel.

Why Is Sustainable Fuel So Important for the Aviation Industry?

Sustainable fuel is essential to the aviation industry because it’s part of the future of flight. Aviation has a rather large carbon footprint but by using sustainable fuels like SAFFiRE’s corn stover-based fuel could not only reduce the use of non-renewable fuels but also reduce the aviation carbon footprint by up to 84%.

Why Did Southwest Airlines Choose SAFFiRE Renewables?

The DOE actually chose SAFFiRE Renewables for a grant in 2021, making it the first ever pilot-scale grant for the production of SAF. The goal was to ultimately commercialize the production of SAF so that it could be used on a much wider scale. Southwest Airlines matched the donation made by the DOE grant for the first phase of the project, which includes:

  • Technology validation
  • Preliminary design
  • Pilot plant business plan

What Are Southwest Airlines’ Environmental Goals?

Southwest Airlines’ goal is to expand its business while at the same time maintaining the same levels of carbon neutrality that the airline had achieved in 2019. Additionally, Southwest aims to use at least 10% SAF by 2030. This aligns with the United States federal government’s goal of 3 billion gallons of SAF production by 2030, called the SAF Grand Challenge.

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