Southwest Airlines Invests in Department of Energy-Backed Sustainable Aviation Fuel Pilot Project

Published on: 03 June 2022

Southwest Airlines has invested in SAFFiRE Renewables, a company formed by D3MAX, as part of a DOE-backed project to develop and produce scalable, environmentally friendly aviation fuel (SAF).

SAFFiRE is anticipated to use technology developed by the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to convert maize stover, a widely available waste feedstock in the United States, into renewable ethanol, which would then be upgraded into SAF.

The DOE awarded D3MAX the only pilot-scale grant for SAF manufacturing in 2021, to scale technology that could commercialise SAF.

According to NREL, this might result in considerable volumes of cost-competitive SAF with a lifetime carbon intensity decrease of 84 per cent compared to traditional jet fuel.

Southwest's match of the DOE's grant will fund phase one of the project, which will involve technological validation, basic design, and a business plan for a pilot plant.

Southwest's Chief Executive Officer, Bob Jordan, said:

"SAF is critical for decarbonising the aviation sector. This is a unique opportunity to invest in what we believe could be a game-changing technology that could facilitate the replacement of up to approximately five per cent of our jet fuel with SAF by 2030, with the potential to significantly continue to scale beyond the decade. This first-of-its-kind investment is another step we are taking to address our environmental impact, and it also supports our efforts to partner with organisations and government entities to help our industry reach the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050."

This project supports the federal government's climate policy, which includes a goal of three billion gallons of SAF by 2030 through the SAF Grand Challenge, in addition to Southwest's SAF ambitions and broader environmental sustainability efforts.

The pilot project's goal is to prove that this corn-stover-to-ethanol technology can be commercialised, with the possibility of a follow-up phase.

If phase one is a success, DOE and Southwest will be able to fund a second phase investment in the design, fabrication, installation, and management of a pilot plant generating sustainable ethanol using D3MAX and NREL technologies.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk said:

"The Department of Energy is committed to turning our ambitious aviation decarbonisation goals into reality through strong partnerships across the airline industry. Moving cutting-edge technological advances in sustainable aviation to production scale will save money, reduce carbon emissions, and reshape the future of airline travel for the benefit of American consumers."

Mark Yancey, CEO of SAFFiRE, said:

"We are extremely excited to be working with Southwest Airlines—they will be a great investor. SAFFiRE technology is expected to produce lower carbon SAF compared to conventional jet fuel on a lifecycle basis, which could become carbon negative with process improvements and carbon capture. If we are successful in developing and commercialising this technology, we project the technology can produce 7.5 billion gallons per year of SAF by 2040."

Southwest is one of the most prestigious airlines in the world, and the company is committed to developing a healthy environment, but it can't do it alone. Southwest's initiatives to reduce, replace, offset, and partner, as detailed in its 10-Year Environmental Sustainability Plan, are essential next stages in the company's path to developing a holistic approach to improve its environmental sustainability.

Source: Southwest Airlines

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