At Southwest, our Purpose is focused on connecting People to what's important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel–a focus that includes tackling the environmental impacts of flying. Last October, we launched our 10-year Environmental Sustainability plan, providing milestones to make progress towards our ultimate goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. As part of this plan, we intend to reduce our carbon emissions intensity by at least 20% by 2030 and maintain carbon neutral growth to 2019 levels. Our 10-year Environmental Sustainability plan is an important step towards our ultimate goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and a key pillar of our plan is to replace 10 percent of our total jet fuel consumption with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2030. We recognize the critical role SAF plays in decarbonizing aviation and the challenges everyone faces in scaling SAF that is cost-competitive with and has a lower carbon intensity (on a lifecycle basis) than conventional jet fuel.
That’s why I’m incredibly excited to share that Southwest is making a first-of-its-kind investment to support the development of technology intended to commercialize sustainable aviation fuel!
What are we doing?
- We are investing in SAFFiRE Renewables, LLC, a company formed by Grand Forks, North Dakota based technology company D3MAX, LLC, as part of a Department of Energy (DOE)-backed project to develop and produce renewable ethanol that can then be turned into SAF.
- In 2021, the DOE awarded D3MAX the only pilot-scale grant for SAF production, with a goal to scale technology that could commercialize lower carbon intensity SAF (on a lifecyle basis, when compared to the carbon intensity of conventional jet fuel).
What will this investment help create?
- Funded in part by Southwest’s investment, SAFFiRE is expected to utilize technology developed by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to convert corn stover, a widely available waste feedstock in the U.S., into renewable ethanol, which would then be upgraded into SAF.
- Southwest’s match of the DOE’s grant supports phase one of the project, which is expected to include technology validation, preliminary design of a pilot plant, and a business plan for the pilot plant.
Where can I learn more about corn stover?
- Corn stover is what’s left over after the corn grain is harvested. For example, the leaves, stalks and cobs of the corn.
- Interested in learning more about how corn stover can be turned into fuel for our aircraft? Check out this video sharing what the technology will look like, if successful:
Why is this opportunity so exciting for Southwest Airlines?
- Phase one of the project is intended to set the plan, including both the business plan, and pilot plant construction plan for this corn stover-to-renewable ethanol technology, which could lead to a follow-up phase involving the construction and operation of a pilot plant that would produce corn stover-based renewable ethanol that could then be upgraded into significant quantities of SAF.
- If successful, we believe this technology could help facilitate the replacement of up to 5% of our jet fuel with SAF by 2030 (half of our 10% goal!), with the potential to significantly continue to scale beyond 2030!
This is a unique opportunity for Southwest to invest in what could be game-changing technology that could help us reach our SAF and environmental sustainability goals. SAF is critical for decarbonizing the aviation sector, and this investment is another step we are taking to advance SAF and work towards achieving our environmental sustainability goals.
 As compared to 2019, includes scope 1 and 2 emissions and the use of sustainable aviation fuel, and excludes the use of carbon offsets
2 SAFFiRE stands for Sustainable Aviation Fuel From [i] Renewable Ethanol