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Bay Area Southwest Jets To Begin Using Sustainable Fuel From Twigs, Bark, Wood

DALLAS (CBS SF) -- The idea of your jet fuel coming from sawdust, twigs, bark, and wood biomass might seem odd, but Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV)  has always done things a bit differently, and Wednesday announced that starting in 2016, jets flying from San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland would begin using a sustainable, low-carbon biofuel in addition to regular fuel.

Even more intriguing is the statement that the plant-based fuel would help reduce the risk of wildfires in the western U.S., something any Southwest passenger knows is a major concern after flying over California this month.

The plan starts with buying only 3 million gallons of the fuel, a fraction of what it uses each year, but it represents a major shift by a major company.

Colorado-based Red Rock Biofuels LLC will use  140,000 tons of "woody biomass" to create 12 million gallons of fuels, including the renewable jet fuel each year.

"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 Biofuel's technology, economics, and approved use made entering into an agreement for purchase a win-win situation."

Red Rock Biofuels uses "renewable forest residues" and creates a variety of fuels through a process called "gasification."  Some of the woody biomass comes from trees slated for felling because of bark beetles.

"Utilizing renewable forest residues as a feedstock will help improve ecosystem health and reduce the risk of destructive wildfires in our forests," the fuel company wrote in a statement.

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