As early as 2016, biofuel made from forest waste might propel passengers on some Southwest Airlines flights.
The airline’s recent agreement with Colorado’s Red Rock Biofuels will have a double benefit: The low-carbon renewable jet fuel — made using forest residues or remnants — will help reduce the risk of destructive wildfires in the Western United States.
The agreement with Red Rock covers the purchase of about 3 million gallons annually. It is expected that the renewable fuel will be incorporated as a blend with conventional jet fuel in Southwest airplanes originating from San Francisco airports starting in 2016.
"Our commitment to sustainability and efficient operations led us on a search for a viable biofuel that uses a sustainable feedstock with a high rate of success," said Bill Tiffany, vice president of supply chain at Southwest Airlines. Red Rock’s technology, economics and approved use of the forest remnants material “made entering into an agreement for purchase a win-win situation,” he said in a press release.
Red Rock’s first plant will convert approximately 140,000 dry tons of woody biomass feedstock into at least 12 million gallons of renewable jet, diesel and naphtha fuels each year. It says its process technology platform -- based on gasification, Fischer-Tropsch conversion and product upgrading -- is “unique in its ability to produce renewable, ASTM-specification jet and diesel fuels at cost parity with conventional fuels.”
Terry Kulesa, Red Rock’s CEO said, “A conversation we started with Southwest on the premise of providing renewable jet fuel at cost parity with conventional jet fuel has evolved into a great partnership. We're happy to help Southwest diversify its fuel supply.”
Southwest is a longtime member of Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), a government and industry coalition for the development and deployment of alternative jet fuel for commercial aviation. As a member of CAAFI, Southwest said it has followed the progress of alternative fuel technologies. “Red Rock Biofuels is the first viable opportunity the airline has found to meet its financial and sustainability objectives,” Southwest added.
Last year, the airline bought 1.8 billion gallons of fuel, meaning that the 3 million gallons the airline will purchase from Red Rock is a small drop in a very large bucket -- representing about 0.20 percent of that total. Three million gallons isn’t even enough to meet Southwest’s fuel needs for one day.
The Dallas Morning News reported, however, that the relatively small amount of biofuel produced will cover a “noticeable portion” of fuel used for Southwest flights at airports in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
Oh well, it’s a decent start at diversification and good PR for the airline’s new heart logo in any case.
Image: Southwest Heart One photo credit by Stephen M. Keller from Southwest media