16 April 2024

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

Southwest Airlines launches sustainability investment platform and takes stake in LanzaJet

Southwest Airlines, the world’s fourth-largest carrier, has launched Southwest Airlines Renewable Ventures (SARV), a dedicated platform to invest in sustainable aviation fuel technologies. The Texas-based airline has also announced a $30 million stake in US-based SAF producer LanzaJet, with which it will collaborate to develop a new SAF production plant, largely to support Southwest’s needs. The two companies will work with SAFFiRE Renewables (Sustainable Aviation Fuel from Renewable Ethanol), a technology company in which Southwest has already invested, that converts corn stover to ethanol. LanzaJet has patented an alcohol-to-jet process, through which such feedstocks are converted to ethanol, then SAF, and recently opened the world’s first commercial-scale refinery for this process, Freedom Pine Fuels, in Soperton, Georgia. The proposed new facility with Southwest will also use LanzaJet’s technology to convert SAFFiRE’s cellulosic ethanol into SAF for the airline. 

Like many carriers, Southwest has committed that by 2030, 10% of the jet fuel it uses will be SAF. But the scale of the airline’s fuel requirement is far bigger than most, with a fleet of almost 850 Boeing 737s serving 121 destinations in the US and 10 other countries, and almost 500 new B737 MAX family jets on order to replace older aircraft and further expand operations. In its February 2024 global assessment of airline performance, aviation data group OAG ranked Southwest – the largest low-cost carrier – the fourth busiest operator by flight frequencies, behind American, Delta and United.

“Our launch of SARV and our investment in LanzaJet demonstrate that we are not sitting on the sidelines,” said Southwest CEO Bob Jordan. “Rather, we’re in the game by taking proactive, disciplined steps toward securing affordable SAF for Southwest as we continue to march toward our goal of net zero 2050. 

“We look forward to working with LanzaJet, which is developing potentially important technology that could create more opportunities for Southwest to obtain scalable SAF, a critical component in the success of our environmental sustainability goal to replace 10% of our jet fuel consumption with SAF by 2030.”

The LanzaJet and SAFFiRE Renewables stakes will be aligned by Southwest through SARV, which will collectively manage the airline’s SAF investments, while the core airline will continue to work with multiple SAF producers to procure more of the fuels. 

“SARV’s goal is to help scale SAF through strategic investments, better positioning Southwest to have access to high quality, affordable SAF in accordance with the robust standards of Southwest’s SAF policy,” added Tom Nealon, who is both SARV’s President and SAFFiRE’s CEO. “Through SARV’s investment in LanzaJet, we’re also entering the next phase in the commercialisation of SAFFiRE technology, which is designed to support the production of cellulosic ethanol that can be converted to SAF.” 

Jimmy Samartzis, CEO of LanzaJet, said his company’s ethanol-to-SAF technology “represents the next generation of sustainable aviation fuel and will transform aviation’s ability to meet its 2050 net zero targets.

“We’re proud to be working with Southwest Airlines to build out this industry as well as working with SAFFiRE Renewables to use ethanol made right here in the US,” he added. “Southwest’s equity investment in LanzaJet will help us continue to grow and scale to meet the demands of the aviation industry, while unlocking the significant potential of the US biofuels industry to benefit local communities and support the agriculture industry.”

Development of the new SAF plant in the US will be led by LanzaJet, which will also support Southwest’s aims to commercialise the SAFFiRE corn-to-ethanol technology. The airline will be “the anchor SAF offtaker”.

“The US is an incredibly important market for us,” said Samartzis. “It’s our home, where our technology is originated and scaled, the site of our and the world’s first commercial ethanol-to-SAF plant, and an important opportunity to support the existing US biofuels and ethanol industries with our leading ethanol-to-SAF technology.

“The alignment of Southwest and LanzaJet is a powerful combination that has the potential to integrate the SAF value chain and to double down on the US ethanol, aviation and biofuel industries. Our work together will lead us closer to meeting aviation’s decarbonisation goals by continuing to scale SAF production in the United States, while also tapping into the US ethanol industry’s potential to catalyse the next generation of SAF production.”

SAFFiRE has been collaborating with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and holds both a licensing agreement and some exclusivity rights to technology to produce cellulosic ethanol from corn stover. Southwest Airlines has matched a grant from the Department to create SAF via the alcohol-to-jet process, through which sugars in the feedstock are fermented to ethanol, which is then deoxygenated to create low carbon fuel. SAFFiRE has previously said it can produce 7.5 billion gallons (27 billion litres) of SAF per year by 2040.

Southwest’s stake in LanzaJet closely follows the energy company’s activation of the Freedom Pines Fuels plant, which is targeting production of renewable fuels including up to 1 billion gallons of SAF by 2030. LanzaJet is also progressing other developments including plans for an alcohol-to-jet plant in Australia with partners including JetZero, Qantas, Airbus and the Queensland state government.

In addition to Southwest, LanzaJet’s investors include British Airways and Japan’s All Nippon Airways, LanzaTech, Shell, Mitsui & Co, Suncor Energy, plus sustainability investors Breakthrough Energy and Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund.

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