10 years in, So. Carolina biodiesel producer expands, diversifies

By Ron Kotrba | September 26, 2018

Winnsboro, South Carolina-based Green Energy Biofuel, formerly known as Midlands Biofuels, has acquired an idle 40 MMgy biodiesel plant in Warrenville, South Carolina. After significant investment reworking the former Green Valley Biofuel plant in Warrenville, Green Energy Biofuel founder and co-owner “Bio” Joe Renwick is preparing to start operations at the facility, which has been renamed GEB3.

The company’s flagship plant is a 300,000-gallon biodiesel production facility in Winnsboro, South Carolina, which Renwick and his partners built from scratch 10 years ago. As the years passed and biodiesel markets fluctuated, Renwick honed and expanded his feedstock collection services and began focusing on selling high-quality feedstock to other biodiesel producers. Nearly four years ago, Renwick expanded his feedstock operations to a site in Knoxville on the University of Tennessee campus.

“We officially changed our name from Midlands Biofuels to Green Energy Biofuel in 2016,” Renwick said. “The change came as a result of our plant opening in Knoxville, Tennessee. While we are proud of our Midlands roots, that name was no longer representative of our company and rapid expansion. We have accounts all over the Southeast, so the name Green Energy Biofuel is much more fitting, as it does not limit us geographically. We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the new name as it is quite catchy, and people love our bold green and yellow colors.”

Renwick said the company is currently in the process of rebranding as simply “Green Energy” and is exploring production and sale of other sustainable products in addition to biodiesel.

GEB3 in Warrenville, South Carolina, is Green Energy Biofuel’s third plant. “It’s the plant of my dreams,” Renwick told Biodiesel Magazine. The plant is equipped with two 200-horsepower boilers rated at 6.5 million BTUs each. “One is natural gas, and the other is biodiesel-powered,” Renwick said. “Our new plant’s extreme capacity will require constant processing, 24/7, meaning we needed to eliminate any possibility for an operationally halting scenario like a failed boiler. Steam boilers are known for both power and downtime for service when needed.” Having a dual heating system will allow Green Energy Biofuel to always “Make it hot!” Renwick exclaims.

When asked whether operations at GEB3 will focus on feedstock purification for other biodiesel producers or large-scale biodiesel production, Renwick says the market will determine that. “Because of fluctuation in the industry, markets of scale will determine what we do,” he said. “Fortunately, through ingenuity, we have always been able to adapt to the changing market. We have scraped by tooth and nail to get to where we are because we only focused on small-scale production. Said differently, we have been practicing for 10 years on how to kick [butt], and now we are ready for large scale. For 6,290 weeks we have been practicing for this moment. Through trial and error, we have learned, calculated and adapted—thus positioning ourselves for exponential success.”

The U.S. biodiesel industry prides itself on the creation of green-collar American jobs. In 2008, Midlands Biofuels started with two employees. In 2010, it grew to five, and in 2014, this number jumped to eight. “Currently, we have 26, and we are still growing,” Renwick said. “We haven’t even started to staff the new plant and expect another 42 employees there over the next five years.”

He said drivers make up more than 55 percent of the Green Energy Biofuel staff today. “We are extremely fortunate and proud to be able to provide not just jobs but careers to exceptional employees and family,” Renwick said. The company’s fleet currently consists of three semi-tractors and three tankers, one vacuum tanker, seven vacuum trucks, a box truck, and a custom dual-pressure washing rig to keep everything clean. “In the next 12 months, we plan to add seven to 10 new tractors and tankers to keep product moving to and from our new plant,” Renwick said.

Green Energy Biofuel is currently supplying feedstock to some of the largest biodiesel plants on the East Coast, “and as many little guys in between as we can,” Renwick said. “We contract out our volume weekly and don’t make long-term price commitments, as the industry is so volatile.”

The company is able to supply so many biodiesel plants with quality feedstock because it has grown its oil collection services organically through the years. Its feedstock collection routes cover an area of more than 600 miles with more than 1,000 accounts across South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee—all with five-year contracts.

“We are currently negotiating with two companies in North Carolina and Georgia to double this number in the near future,” Renwick said. “We are learning how to backhaul waste for processing at the new plant so the name of the game is we are never running empty. And owning a dual rail spur at our new plant with room to accept eight railcars at a time will give us unlimited reach and capacity to scale this business.”

When Green Energy Biofuel purchased the idled 40 MMgy plant, the facility came equipped with three 20,000-gallon biodiesel reactors. “We have left the three reactors and much of the process untouched for a reason,” Renwick said. “I know the day will come when fuel prices will rise to $4 per gallon and maybe if RIN prices increase, or other incentives were offered again, we could flip the switch and go right into biodiesel production. We have added five centrifuges to this process and still have two massive distillation towers and all the bells and whistles required to crank out millions of gallons per year—when the time is right. The best part is, with the extensive process redesign, we are able to process our own feedstock in-house for the lowest cost of biodiesel production than any plant I know of.”

Renwick added that Green Energy Biofuel is in negotiations to lease out some of its Warrenville acreage to another company that is interested in building a brown grease biodiesel production facility.

When asked whether it was time to change his name from “Bio” Joe to “UCO” Joe, given the company’s regeared focus on feedstock purification and sales, Renwick emphatically said, “No, I am still very much in the biofuel game. The reality is we make a way bigger impact supplying biofuel feedstock to both mid- and large-scale plants, which is exactly what they need—high-quality feedstock made by people that know what it takes to run a biodiesel process. Most importantly, we do it without all the [shenanigans] that some in the grease business provide. Grease suppliers have plagued this industry for years, ripping off companies with bad product or often never even delivering and just taking the money and running. It is funny how if you just do what you say you are going to do consistently, you can be successful. The Citadel Military College instilled in me values, honor and integrity. ‘You don’t lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those that do.’ There are no shortcuts in business or life. With 10 years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, I have branded ‘Bio’ Joe as someone you can work with in this crazy industry with confidence. And that won’t change.”

In late September, U.S. Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina’s 5th District toured Green Energy Biofuel’s plant in Winnsboro in advance of National Clean Energy Week Sept. 24-28. The congressman was welcomed by Renwick and his wife and business partner Beth Renwick—a recent recipient of the Columbia Business Report’s 2018 South Carolina Women of Influence Award—along with plant manager Jack Sidlo and the Winnsboro team. During the tour, Renwick shared the hardships of the biodiesel industry with Norman as well as the determination that fueled him through the grueling years to get Green Energy Biofuel not only operational but successful. Afterwards, Renwick and the congressman imbibed in a shot of biodiesel to demonstrate the fuel’s safety and low environmental impact. Click here to view Renwick and Rep. Norman drinking biodiesel.

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