Ohio Farm Family Holds 50 International Patents for Renewable Lubricants
Garmier Farms and the family’s Renewable Lubricants business run with military precision. Two generations of family member managers boast illustrious Air Force careers that brought an understanding of military-grade manufacturing and technology needs together with a love of farming and the environment, as well as a specialized interest in the viscosity of lubricants.
Bill Garmier grew up on a family farm in Hartville, Ohio and enlisted in the Air Force where he was a crew chief for the C141. After retiring from the military, he was a millwright at the former Monarch plant in Akron, where he became a self-taught lubricants expert. His son, Ben, served in the Air Force for 14 years and returned to the family business about five years ago. He brought home knowledge acquired as a flight engineer.
“When I was in basic training, they warned you not to touch your face after you cleaned your gun,” said Ben, who now serves as Vice President of Sales for Renewable Lubricants.
“That’s why it’s important to have products like ours in the Bio-pre- ferredTM program [for the military.]”
Renewable Lubricants makes about 250 different bio-based products, including high-performance hydraulic fluids, motor oils, food-grade lubricants, greases and metalworking for the sanitation, marine, mining, forestry, food processing and agriculture industries.
All of the products contain high oleic (HO) vegetable base oils. Jackie Garmier, president of the company and Bill’s wife, explained they’re more sustainable than petroleum and that is attractive to all industries. The base oils that compose most of their products contain canola, HO soybean, sunflower or a combination.
“The same thing that happens in your body, happens in a combustible engine,” said Jackie of the need for high-oleic base oils to keep things running smoothly.
Green Before Green was Cool
In the 70s and 80s, Bill distinguished his career as a lubricants expert serving as an international consultant for Axel Christiernsson and U.S. Steel and working in leadership at Teledyne — all while managing his family farm of about 750 tillable acres of corn and soybeans.
In 1993, Bill and Jackie launched their business as Renewable Lubricants, Inc. At the same time, he developed and secured 50 international patents for bio-based lubricating products.
Ben, who was 11 at the time, recalls, “It was not fun around the house. My parents were writing a pages-long grant to mail, and it was tense!”
The grant they wrote on a word pro- cessor and submitted to USDA-DOD in paper copies resulted in their first contract to research bio-based products, and the funds were matched by Lubrizol and Dow AgriSciences.
“We were pioneering a whole new industry,” said Bill.
“In the beginning, it was about getting rid of the dependence on foreign oil,” said Ben. Now, the company markets their products for their environmental benefits over petroleum products.
That first grant led to other funding for their research and development from the United Soybean Board (USB), Ohio Soybean Council, Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers and other check-off funded organizations. Those early investments led to proving their products were marketable, and established a wholesale customer base.
The research worked, and the Garmiers turned their experiments into a thriving company. Today, their lubricants are sold through Grainger, Fastenal, Amazon and industrial lubricant distributors.
Renewable Lubricants takes the call to stewardship seriously and works in the lab to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of their products. In fact, they have improved their hydraulic fluids in response to the need for vineyards and golf courses to maintain very high standards.
“In a vineyard, a blown hydraulic line could affect a stand of grapes for years,” said Bill. “Our prod- uct, you could spill it and it wouldn’t hurt [the plants or the fruit at all].”
He described an experiment whereby they put their hydraulic fluid on golf course grass next to a traditional hydraulic fluid spill. Where the traditional fluid burnt the grass and required completely digging up the and replacing soil and sod, the Renewable Lubricants version didn’t affect how the grass appeared at all.
In addition to all the bio-based inputs, the Garmiers are currently exploring ways to complete the recycling loop by converting expired or unused lubricants into finished products.
From Farm to Fluid
In the manufacturing facility on the family’s farm, you’ll see tanks of high-oleic soybean and canola oil lining the walls. They serve as the base for their thousands of proprietary mixes.
Master blenders Jim Kennedy and Joe Ledsome take the base oils to heat them in large “hot tanks” that reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit before blending them with additives to meet ISO specifications.
“When you cook the oil, you have to have a recipe,” said Jackie. “Just like baking a cake.”
Once the oils are cooked, they are sampled and bottled. The samples are tested in the company’s quality control laboratory, which is soon to get an upgrade in a new addition to the warehouse. Renewable Lubricants stores the samples for future reference.
Quality is critical in order to meet several standards expected by their diverse customer base and regulated and certified by independent entities, as well as the EPA, FDA and USDA: US Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP) regulates environmental standards for vessels operating in U.S. coastal waters and Great Lakes. The permit requires environmentally acceptable lubricants must be used in all oil-to- sea interfaces on vessels. Renew- able Lubricants has developed a full product line to meet these new requirements set by the EPA as Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants. FDA Regulation 21 regulates food machinery lubricants used in food processing, bakery and bottling plants. Renewable Lubricants Bio- Food Grade line of NSF H-1 registered, food machinery lubricants comply because they are formulated from high-quality vegetable non-petroleum oil and combined with unique patented formulas to exceed many performance specifications of conventional H-2 lubricants.
USDA BioPreferred Program. According to their website, the purpose of the program is to promote the increased purchase and use of bio- based products. It is expected to promote economic development, create new jobs and provide new markets for farm commodities.
A Family Affair
It’s hard to tell which of the roughly dozen employees working at Renewable Lubricants and Garmier Farms are related, because Bill and Jackie treat everyone like family.
Jackie points out the relationship with each person and shares their accomplishments like a mother or grandmother would. Bill says of his bride, “I went to Akron to find me a farm girl.” Jackie owned a beauty salon in Akron before becoming a fearless farm wife and the company president.
Several of their employees are family members, friends from church, or former co-workers with Bill in his previous roles. Son-in-law Jeff Schloneger is the Operations Manager for the plant. His daughter, Allison, interns with the company while she’s not studying Art & Design at Kent State University. Grandma Jackie made a special point to share that Allison is an accomplished violinist, violist and potter at the age of 20.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Elliott Schlo- neger takes care of working ground and sidedressing on the farm. He has become a talented woodworker who sells his products at the local auction and markets, and hopes to become a mechanical engineer.
Carrie Hadley joined the Renewable Lubricants family in 2017 to work in digital marketing after graduating from Kent State University. She manages the marketing, design and photography, and is working to build up the company’s online presence.
Jeff Zimmerman joined the company about a year ago as a chemical engineer. Another acquaintance through church, Zimmerman had experience in engineering with larger companies and likes the challenge of having “more freedom to make changes.”
“We needed to move the technology transfer to someone we know and trust,” said Bill of the relationship with Zimmerman.
Not only do the Garmiers treat their employees like family, but they also have life-long relationships with their customers and partners. In fact, one colleague from Axel Christiernsson sent his high school-aged son from Sweden to spend his summers with the Garmiers working on the farm. Not only did he learn how to farm, he also began speaking English better than his well-traveled parents.
Bill Garmier has also had a longtime friendship with Mark Thomas, the local drag racing legend who drove the Ethanol sponsored race car for many years.
Each customer and member of the team adds a new dimension of knowledge and experience that builds on the Garmiers’ vision of a renewable future.
With the world looking for more sustainable options, the bio-based lubricant market will continue to grow. As that happens, Renewable Lubricants will be known as one of the early pioneers. In just 27 years, their innovations have led to improved economic advantages for employees and farmers and reduced the environmental footprint of many large companies.
Imagine what the next 100 years will bring.