Southwest Airlines Continues Its Support of Sustainable Aviation Fuel Research to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Dallas-headquartered airline company wants to help the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory get scalable and viable aviation fuel off the runway. The NREL is working to develop low-carbon, low-cost, high-performance aviation fuels created from wet waste, like food.

Southwest Airlines is showing its dedication to a healthier environment through its continued support of the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) sustainable aviation fuel initiatives.

Southwest aligns with the NREL’s sustainable fuel goals as a global citizen that seeks to do the right thing for its employees through its performance and service to the planet, according to a statement.

NREL researchers utilize a biorefining process to harness energy from food waste and wet waste to create low-carbon, low-cost, high-performance aviation fuels compatible with existing jet fuel engines, per a statement. This process could potentially support net-zero-carbon flights.

Vice President of Supply Chain Management and Environmental Sustainability Stacy Malphurs said in a statement that Southwest recognizes the important role sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will play in its journey to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

“By working with organizations like NREL, Southwest embraces a great opportunity to advance the crucial science that makes this technology possible, and more available. We’re excited to work with NREL toward commercially-viable SAF,” Malphurs said in a statement. 

Southwest has been working with NREL since 2019 to find commercially-viable SAF to incorporate in its operations once available. 

And NREL seems to have found a way through wet waste and food waste from the United States, which could produce enough energy to cover 20 percent of U.S. jet fuel consumption, per a statement.

“NREL has demonstrated how to make SAF from wet waste that is compatible with existing jet engines,” NREL scientist Derek Vardon said in a statement. “It has the potential for a carbon negative footprint when diverting food waste from landfills.”

Conventional jet fuel is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions for airlines, so the NREL SAF pathway from waste is an alternative that could reduce reliance on traditional jet fuel. 

In addition to Southwest’s goal to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, it expects to update its strategic plan for the next five years to expand its route network, launch Global Distribution System (GDS) access for corporate travelers, and accelerate fleet modernization efforts to replace its 737-700 aircraft with the MAX. 

Southwest announced its Q1 financial results today, ending the quarter with $116 million of net income, driven by a $1.2 billion offset of expenses from the extended Payroll Support Program. The company reported liquidity of $15.3 billion, well in excess of debt outstanding of $10.8 billion.

“Being a good steward of the environment is not only good for our Planet, it is good for business, and it is the right thing to do for our Employees, Customers, and Shareholders,” Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, said in a statement.

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