Southwest Airlines has announced an investment into SAFFiRE Renewables, a company formed by D3MAX as part of a Department of Energy (DOE)-backed project to develop and produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Funded with a DOE grant matched 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 that then would be upgraded 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 SAF. According to NREL, this could produce significant quantities of cost-competitive SAF that could provide an 84% reduction in carbon intensity compared to conventional jet fuel on a lifecycle basis. Southwest’s match of the DOE’s grant supports phase one of the project, which is expected to include technology validation, preliminary design, and a business plan for a pilot plant.
In 2021, Southwest set a near-term goal to maintain carbon neutrality to 2019 levels while continuing to grow its operations, part of which includes replacing 10 percent of its total jet fuel consumption with SAF by 2030.
In addition to complementing Southwest’s SAF goals and broader environmental sustainability efforts, this project supports the federal government’s climate strategy, including an ambition for three billion gallons of SAF by 2030 through the SAF Grand Challenge.
The pilot project is intended to validate the commercialization of this corn-stover-to-ethanol technology, which could lead to a follow-up phase. If phase one is successful, DOE and Southwest would have the opportunity to fund a second phase investment for the design, fabrication, installation, and operation of a pilot plant producing renewable ethanol utilizing technology developed by D3MAX and NREL. In phase two, the renewable ethanol is planned to be upgraded into SAF by LanzaJet at its biorefinery currently under construction in Soperton, Georgia.