Higher octane ratings correlate to higher activation energies. Activation energy is the amount of energy necessary to start a chemical reaction. Since higher octane fuels have higher activation energies, it is less likely that a given compression will cause detonation.
It might seem odd that fuels with higher octane ratings are used in more powerful engines, since such fuels explode less easily. However, an explosion is not desired in an internal combustion engine. An explosion will cause the pressure in the cylinder to rise far beyond the cylinder's design limits, before the force of the expanding gases can be absorbed by the piston traveling downward. This actually reduces power output, because much of the energy of combustion is absorbed as strain and heat in parts of the engine, rather than being converted to torque at the crankshaft.A fuel with a higher octane rating can be run at a higher compression ratio without detonating. Compression is directly related to power (see engine tuning), so engines that require higher octane usually deliver more motive power. Engine power is a function of the fuel, as well as the engine design, and is related to octane rating of the fuel. Power is limited by the maximum amount of fuel-air mixture that can be forced into the combustion chamber. When the throttle is partially open, only a small fraction of the total available power is produced because the manifold is operating at pressures far below atmospheric. In this case, the octane requirement is far lower than when the throttle is opened fully and the manifold pressure increases to atmospheric pressure, or higher in the case of supercharged or turbocharged engines.Many high-performance engines are designed to operate with a high maximum compression, and thus demand high-octane premium gasoline. A common misconception is that power output or fuel mileage can be improved by burning higher octane fuel than a particular engine was designed for. The power output of an engine depends in part on the energy density of its fuel, but similar fuels with different octane ratings have similar density. Since switching to a higher octane fuel does not add any more hydrocarbon content or oxygen, the engine cannot produce more power.However, burning fuel with a lower octane rating than required by the engine often reduces power output and efficiency one way or another. If the engine begins to detonate (knock), that reduces power and efficiency for the reasons stated above. Many modern car engines feature a knock sensor – a small piezoelectric microphone which detects knock, and then sends a signal to the engine control unit to retard the ignition timing. Retarding the ignition timing reduces the tendency to detonate, but also reduces power output and fuel efficiency.
Most fuel stations have two storage tanks (even those offering 3 or 4 octane levels), and you are given a mixture of the higher and lower octane fuel. Purchasing premium simply means more fuel from the higher octane tank. The detergents in the fuel are the same.
The octane rating was developed by chemist Russell Marker at the Ethyl Corporation c1926. The selection of n-heptane as the zero point of the scale was due to the availability of very high purity n-heptane, not mixed with other isomers of heptane or octane, distilled from the resin of the Jeffrey Pine. Other sources of heptane produced from crude oil contain a mixture of different isomers with greatly differing ratings, which would not give a precise zero point.
The selection of octane ratings available at the pump can vary greatly from region to region.
In the Rocky Mountain (high altitude) states, 85 AKI is the minimum octane, and 91 AKI is the maximum octane available in fuel. The reason for this is that in higher-altitude areas, a typical combustion engine draws in less air per cycle due to the reduced density of the atmosphere. This directly translates to reduced absolute compression in the cylinder, therefore deterring knock. It is safe to fill up a car with a carburetor that normally takes 87 AKI fuel at sea level with 85 AKI fuel in the mountains, but at sea level the fuel may cause damage to the engine. A disadvantage to this strategy is that most turbocharged vehicles are unable to produce full power, even when using the "premium" 91 AKI fuel. In some east coast states, up to 94 AKI is available . In parts of the Midwest (primarily Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri) ethanol based E-85 fuel with 105 AKI is available . Often, filling stations near US racing tracks will offer higher octane levels such as 100 AKI.
California fuel stations will offer 87, 89, and 91 AKI octane fuels, and at some stations, 100 AKI or higher octane, sold as racing fuel. Until Summer 2001 before the phase-out of methyl tert-butyl ether aka MTBE as an octane enhancer additive, 92 AKI was offered in lieu of 91.
Generally, octane ratings are higher in Europe than they are in North America and most other parts of the world. This is especially true when comparing the lowest available octane level in each country. In many parts of Europe, 95 RON (90-91 AKI) is the minimum available standard, with 97/98 RON being higher specification (being called Super Unleaded). In Germany, big suppliers like Shell or Aral offer 100 RON gasoline (Shell V-Power, Aral Ultimate) at almost every gas station. The United Kingdom also offers Shell V-Power, but in a 99 RON octane rating, and Tesco fuel stations also supply the Greenergy produced 99 RON "Tesco 99". In Australia, "regular" unleaded fuel is 91 RON, "premium" unleaded with 95 RON is widely available, and 98 RON fuel is also reasonably common. Shell used to sell 100 RON petrol from a small number of service stations, most of which are located in capital cities (stopped in August 2008). In Malaysia, the "regular" unleaded fuel is 95 RON, "premium" fuel is rated at 97 RON, and Shell's V-Power at 97 RON. In the Netherlands Shell V-Power is a 97 RON (labelled as 95 due to the legalities of only using 95 or 98 labelling), whereas in neighbouring Germany Shell V-Power consists of the regular 100 RON racing fuel. In other countries "regular" unleaded gasoline, when available, is sometimes as low as 85 RON (still with the more regular fuel, 95, and premium, around 98, available). In Russia and CIS countries 80 RON (76 MON) is the minimum available, the standard is 92 RON, however, the most used type is 95 RON. In Ireland 95 RON is the only petrol type available through stations.
In Italy, 95 RON is the regular gasoline offered (verde), and most gas stations offer 98 RON as the premium type (Super/Blu Super), many Shell stations close to the cities offer also V-Power Gasoline rated at 100 RON.
This higher rating seen in Europe is an artifact of a different underlying measuring procedure. In most countries (including all of Europe and Australia) the "headline" octane that would be shown on the pump is the RON, but in the United States, Canada and some other countries the headline number is the average of the RON and the MON, sometimes called the Anti-Knock Index (AKI), Road Octane Number (RdON), Pump Octane Number (PON), or (R+M)/2. Because of the 8 to 10 point difference noted above, this means that the octane in the United States will be about 4 to 5 points lower than the same fuel elsewhere: 87 octane fuel, the "regular" gasoline in the US and Canada, would be 91-92 in Europe. However most European pumps deliver 95 (RON) as "regular", equivalent to 90–91 US AKI=(R+M)/2, and deliver 98, 99 or 100 (RON) (93-94 AKI) labeled as Super Unleaded - thus regular gasoline sold in much of Europe corresponds to premium sold in the United States.
In the United Kingdom, 'regular' petrol has an octane rating of 95 RON, with 97 RON fuel being widely available as the Super Unleaded. Tesco and Shell both offer 99 RON fuel. BP is currently trialling the public selling of the super-high octane petrol BP Ultimate Unleaded 102, which as the name suggests, has an octane rating of 102 RON. Although BP Ultimate Unleaded (with an octane rating of 97 RON) and BP Ultimate Diesel are both widely available throughout the UK, BP Ultimate Unleaded 102 is (as of October 2007) only available throughout the UK in 10 filling stations, and is priced at about two and half times more than their 97 RON fuel."
Pretty interesting when you dive into the chemistry and science behind it...
Police: "Do you have any idea how fast you were going?"
Me: "No sir, I'm sorry I don't, the speedometer stops at 185!"
Last edited by stillmackn; 02-21-2012 at 01:26 PM.
Reason: bold and highlight