Green Energy Biofuel of Aiken County celebrates growth, new machine

Oct. 27—A company that began in the garage of a North Augusta home has grown to include three facilities in South Carolina and one in Tennessee, and the company has invested around $7 or $8 million into into Aiken County.

"Bio Joe" Renwick, the cofounder and co-owner of Green Energy BioFuel, spoke about the company Tuesday morning before giving tours of its facility located at 2110 Main St. in Warrenville.

Renwick said he owned a landscaping business in Winnsboro before he sold the business to move with his wife, Beth, to North Augusta to allow her to complete her emergency medicine residency at what's now the Augusta University Medical Center.

He took a job as an account executive at Wachovia but kept the diesel truck, 2003 Chevy, he used for the landscaping business. Renwick said the truck was "cool" when he had the Wachovia job.

But, after he was laid off from Wachovia (the financial services company was among the most heavily impacted by the Great Recession and the mortgage crisis), the owner of a pharmaceutical sales company he went to after Wachovia died and gas and diesel prices increased, the truck wasn't so cool anymore.

"I was unable to put fuel in this truck and I had a problem," Renwick said. "I met this doctor that Beth was going to residency with and he said oh, you need to make biodiesel. And that was the first time I had ever heard the word biodiesel used."

Renwick said some time went by and he met a guy who knew how to make biodiesel. And he decided to try to make his own in the garage of a home he owned in a North Augusta neighborhood. So he brought 55 gallon drums and water heaters and set up in the garage with the help of a neighbor and his father, Erwin.

Renwick's mother, Martha, was skeptical of the plan.

She said Tuesday morning that she told Renwick he was going to blow up his house.

Renwick said Beth was also skeptical at the time.

"Within a few weeks and a few hundred dollars, I was making fuel from waste cooking oil recycled from the local tapas restaurant 'The Bee's Knees' in downtown Augusta," Renwick said on the company's website.

By the time Beth finished her residency and the couple moved back to Winnsboro, Renwick knew his future was in biodiesel.

He and a friend from college, Brandon Spence, founded what would become Green Fuel Biofuel in 2008 and they opened their first plant in Winnsboro. The company's growth continued even though the federal government ended all biodiesel subsidiaries in 2009, Renwick and Spence split in 2011 and Beth became the primary owner of the business.

Green Energy Biofuel acquired a former mill in Warrenville in 2018 that had been converted into a biofuel facility. And the company's business model changed from biodiesel refining to fuel oil collection and processing.

The Renwicks have invested $7-8 million in the Warrenville facility, they employ 44 people and they just brought what Renwick said was the first depackager, known as the Hungry Hungry Hippos, to South Carolina.

During the facility tour, founder and co-owner "Bio Joe" Renwick said he believed the depackager was the only machine of its type in the state. He added that he did not know of any in the state of Georgia. Renwick added there is a similar machine in Charlotte.

The machine is part of the process Green Energy BioFuel uses to separate oil that can be refined into biodiesel. The depackager removes spoiled food from its packaging and separates it into three categories: plastics and cardboard, food that can't be converted into biodiesel and oil that can be refined into biodiesel.

The plastics and cardboard are shipped from the Aiken facility to the Sonoco plant in Columbia for conversion into recycled products. The food that can't be converted into biodiesel is shipped to Elgin and used in Green Energy BioFuel's composting facility, ReSoil. The oil is further refined at the facility to remove additional particles — the removed particles are composted in Elgin — so that it can be shipped to a biodiesel facility for final refinement.

The facility also processes used cooking oil from restaurants and warehouses that does not need to go through the depackager.