Southwest Airlines in the Bay Area Is Implementing the Most San Francisco Innovation Ever


The news: Twigs, bark and sawdust sound like a disastrous cocktail to mix with jet fuel, but don't tell Southwest Airlines. The airline announced Thursday that it plans to use those ingredients to power flights departing from — where else? — the California Bay Area. 

Starting in 2016, planes leaving San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco will use "sustainable, low-carbon biofuel" in addition to the good old, earth-melting fuel it already uses. The Dallas-based airline said it will buy 3 million gallons of the "woody biomass" fuel from a Colorado manufacturer each year. 

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Why it matters: Granted, that's a drop in the barrel considering the airline burns through more than 1 billion gallons each year, but it's a promising (if small) shift toward sustainable energy in an important industry. In all, U.S. airlines used nearly 16 billion gallons of fuel in 2013, totaling $48.2 billion in costs.

"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," the airline said in a statement

Red Rock Biofuels, the company Southwest Airlines is buying the fuel from, explains that the fuel uses "renewable forest residues." It adds that using those ingredients "as a feedstock will help improve ecosystem health and reduce the risk of destructive wildfires in our forests."

Officials from the International Air Transport Association said using biofuel mixed with regular fuel is part of a larger trend in the industry as it tries to reduce its carbon footprint.

"Sustainable bio jet fuels allow airlines to reduce their carbon footprint, ease their dependence on fossil fuels, and offset the risks associated with the high volatility of oil and fuel prices," it said.

Great work, Southwest. Now how about reducing flight delays?