Southwest Airlines Acquires SAF Co - Smart Energy Decisions

GHG Emissions, Commercial, Sourcing Renewables  -  April 22, 2024

Southwest Airlines Acquires SAF Co

Southwest Airlines announced the acquisition of SAFFiRE Renewables, LLC, as part of the investment portfolio of its wholly owned subsidiary Southwest Airlines Renewable Ventures LLC. 

SAFFiRE is part of a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) project to develop SAF, according to an announcement. In collaboration with private-sector partners, NREL scientists invented a new method for treating and processing corn stover, which is the organic residue of corn harvest. 

Corn stover is one of several feedstocks for ethanol, which can be refined into SAF. 

The U.S. produces over 400 million tons of corn stover in an average year, and at least one-third of this annual yield could be repurposed for SAF production.  Using this resource and other agricultural residues, the U.S. could produce over 7 billion gallons of SAF annually, or about 20% of the projected 2050 demand.  

SAFFiRE's pretreatment process, which was developed by using the base technology created at NREL, combines new methods with proven technologies to produce low-carbon-intensity ethanol from corn stover. This breakthrough process reduces waste and is anticipated to allow for deployment on an unprecedented scale. 

SAFFiRE's acquisition by Southwest Airlines, which has already set a goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, is a major step toward a long-anticipated boom in domestic SAF production.

In February 2024, Southwest Airlines announced a $30 million investment in LanzaJet, which recently launched a U.S. Department of Energy-supported, ethanol-to-SAF production facility.

The DOE continues to coordinate its investments in SAF with other federal agencies through the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge. 

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