Southwest Airlines has acquired sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) company SAFFiRE Renewables after investing in the US Department of Energy (DOE) backed SAF project since it launched its pilot project in 2022. 

The company, which makes SAF from renewable ethanol, is part of the investment portfolio of the airline’s Southwest Airlines Renewable Ventures subsidiary and will form part of its desire to develop scalable solutions for SAF use. 

Bob Jordan, President and CEO of Southwest, said the acquisition highlighted the company’s confidence in SAFFiRE’s technology, he said: “Championing SAF is a key pillar of Southwest’s Nonstop to Net Zero plan and our work toward a more sustainable future for air travel. 

“We look forward to continuing our journey with SAFFiRE as part of our efforts to propel this promising technology forward.” 

The acquisition will mark the beginning of phase two of SAFFiRE’s project which will see the development of a pilot plant located at Conestoga’s Arkalon Energy ethanol facility in Kansas, US. 

This stage would utilise the company’s exclusive tech license from the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to produce renewable ethanol using 10t of corn stover per day, which will then be converted to SAF by LanzaJet, a company which Southwest has also invested in and has partnered with aviation giants such as Airbus

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SAFFiRE’s ethanol based SAF would offer a better reduction in emissions than conventional SAF, which is normally based on waste products such as cooking oil and animal fats, with a lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reduction of around 84%. 

The use of corn stover, a biproduct of corn production, is also key to the project’s sustainability claims as it says it can produce 50 gallons of SAF from one ton of dry corn stover.