Octane is a flammable hydrocarbon of the alkane series, obtained in petroleum refining. That’s a long way of saying higher octane means higher explosion point. Meaning you want more of it for your combustible engine. Octane numbers tend to change as additives improve and the quality of oil refining increases. Octane numbers to the uninitiated mean about as much as hieroglyphics to a non-archeologist. So let’s dive down deep into the octane-fueled rabbit hole that is fuel quality. Prepare to be amazed.
To begin the lesson we should learn how modern combustible engines work. High-pressure chambers in your engine are constantly filling with vapor and combusting to produce the energy needed to keep your vehicle moving down the road. Now the vapor that fills the chamber is highly pressurized fuel from your vehicles gas tank. Depending on the octane level of the fuel or the quality of fuel combustion can take place at different times during the rotation of the cylinder. The point of combustion is vital to the efficiency of an engine as misfires mean that no energy is produced by a rotation.
So now that we know how combustion engines work, what part does the fuel we put into our vehicles play? Well, we spoke briefly about misfires (basically what happens when the internal combustion takes place at the wrong time) but we did not get into what causes them and what the quality of fuel means to your engine. The igniting point of all of the fuel is about 4500 degrees Fahrenheit (about 2500 degrees Celsius). This is crucial to the internal equation of ignition in your car.
You may be wondering what octane and fuel quality mean for your internal combustion engine (ICE)? Well, to begin with, higher octane has a very positive effect on the environment. By using up more of the fuel in the chamber less emission is produced from the ignition. More used = less released. A study from MIT in 2014 even suggests that higher octane fuels could cut our annual CO2 emissions by 35 million tons. Besides the environmental benefits, higher octane fuel puts out more energy per rotation than standard fuel meaning that your vehicles fuel economy is positively affected.
Now that we understand the use and benefits of higher octane fuels lets go back and re-visit those numbers on the pumps 87, 89, and 93. 87 is standard fuel. That is all. In actuality 87 is the standard octane rating that all gas stations provide. Because most vehicles engines are designed with this octane rating in mind, fueling with anything lower can negatively affect your engine. If fuel is ignited earlier in the cycle then the piston could be pushed down while it is rising, potentially causing long-term damage to the piston and in turn your engine. 89, and 93 are designed to withstand much more heat and pressure before igniting, meaning that you’re ICE should be able to make the most use of the vapor it has in its chamber.
Now that we have learned about octane ratings will you be changing how you fuel car? Consider reading our Ultimate guide to fuel prices for more fuel information. If you found any of the information in this article useful, consider subscribing for more fuel news Otherwise thank you for reading!
-The SC Fuels Team