Allied Washoe positions itself for a new era in fueling

Allied Washoe Petroleum was in the fuels business before the world ran on oil.

And now that the world is looking to run on something other than oil in its future, Reno-based Allied Washoe is beginning yet another transition.

The company plans, for instance, to add a charging station for electric vehicles at its headquarters at 2500 E. Fourth St.

A few weeks ago, Allied Washoe began collecting used cooking oil, which is recycled by Minden's Bently Biofuels into diesel fuels.

Allied Washoe puts some of that environmentally friendly fuel to work as it blends 2 percent biodiesel with the regular No. 2 heating oil that it delivers to some 2,500 home heating customers in the region.

Mike Cox, chief executive officer of the century-old company, believes the fuels business clearly is set for sweeping changes over the next couple of decades.

"Are we going to be in this business in 20 years?" he asks.

But guessing the new path of the fuels business electric? biodiesel? some new technology? is fraught with uncertainties for Cox and Scott Inman, the president of Allied Washoe.

A couple of years ago, the company's leadership thought the future clearly belonged to biodiesel. It added the fuel to its product mix and began making plans to invest as much as $100,000 to add it to the pump at cardlock fueling locations.

But the company wasn't sure demand was sufficient to justify the investment, and Allied Washoe today is selling biodiesel at the pump during business hours at its Fourth Street facility while it waits to see how the market develops.

Inman and Cox also are carefully monitoring demand for other fuels such as GDiesel, which is beginning to be produced by Advanced Refining Concepts at Sparks-area facilities. (Advanced Refining converts natural gas into a liquid fuel.)

The company's work to position itself correctly in the changing market for fuels is all the more complex because the recession took a toll on many of Allied Washoe's bulk fuel and lubricants customers construction companies, regional and local haulers, government agencies and the like.

Given the razor-thin margins in the fuels business often, no more than a couple of cents per gallon Allied Washoe felt the pinch when customers paid slowly or not at all.

Ruling by regulators, too, require the company and its 50 employees to stay nimble.

A recent focus of the company, for instance, has been on the rollout of diesel exhaust fluid, a product that's required for truck fleets as part of Environmental Protection Agency regulations that require sharp reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions from diesel engines.

Big change is nothing new for the company, which traces its roots to a wood-and-coal outfit in the early 1900s. Purchased by the Madsen family, its longtime owners, in 1912, the company added petroleum products to its offerings only in the late 1930s.

But much as it currently is adding green-energy product lines to supplement, not replace, petroleum fuels, Allied Washoe kept original products even when it added petroleum fuels.

The company still sells coal to customers that range from a forge company that creates high-technology components for aerospace applications to a smattering of individual consumers who still use coal for home heat.

And although the company hasn't sold firewood for many years, its management took a close look at re-entering the business a while back.

They decided that the growth of the fuels business probably points in a different direction, although its lineup of fuels these days includes wood-stove pellets made from byproducts of a walnut-shelling operation in northern California.

Cox, who joined the company in 2005 and now is its majority shareholder, says it's important that the company maintain its core values even while it moves into 21st century products.

"We're northern Nevada people," he says. "Our phone gets answered by people. We're handshake people."

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