Automakers Consider Octane Increase For Better Fuel Economy, Emissions

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon
automakers consider octane increase for better fuel economy emissions

Automakers are looking to boost octane in the gasoline consumers use as a possible new tool to cheaply and easily meet ever-tightening standards.

At the 2015 SAE World Congress in Detroit last week, panelists representing Ford, General Motors, Chevron, and Renewable Fuels Association discussed the idea of raising the octane rating of regular gasoline from 87 to 95, Automotive News reports.

The group agreed that by doing so, fuel economy would climb between 3 percent and 6 percent while also lowering CO2 emissions by 2 percent. In turn, the engineers could make a few modifications to the pistons and/or cylinder heads in order to increase a given engine’s compression ratio – a process that can occur quickly with little in the way of investment or labor – to enable the use of higher-octane fuels.

However, boosting the octane rating would also boost the price per gallon of gasoline. The U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that the current gulf between regular and high-octane blends comes to an average of 37 cents as of last week. While automakers aren’t willing to make their consumers pay more at the pump for the touted improvements, they’re also finding less inexpensive methods to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy and emissions standards, such as the 2025 mandate of 54.5 mpg fleet average.

Another problem: as newer vehicles with higher-compression engines would benefit from the increase in octane, Chevron research engineer Amir Maria said most vehicles on the road at present would be better off on 87 octane – the rating the engines were calibrated to run – and consumers would be dinged by as much as $1,500 more over 200,000 miles if they went for 95 octane.

[Photo credit: Upupa4me/ Flickr]

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  • Chaparral Chaparral on Apr 27, 2015

    One-grade 95-octane gasoline would allow a significantly more peak power (10%+) over current 91/93 in a turbocharged car. Automakers would be able to avoid new high-performance engine architectures with a little more headroom on existing stuff. I'm in favor because it would probably eliminate the old 100 Low Lead (heavily leaded blue) aviation gas and would let me run pump gas in the racebike and the kart. There are 17 grades/types of gasoline being produced for American road use. If we were able to go down to 2 (95 octane E10 low-VOC summer, 92 octane E10 high-VOC winter) the oil companies would save money. Depending on how competitive the gasoline market actually is, it'd go to either the consumers (me) or the shareholders (me).

    • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Apr 28, 2015

      Heh heh, like the proceeds from improved margins actually go to the shareholders these days. Well, a bit does, but for the most part the executives steal it through a merry-go-round compensation process where everyone remotely profitable has to be 75% percentile and raises their comp until they are, without meaningful shareholder input. Employees and consumers aren't the only ones getting the shaft in today's business model. Shareholders are too.

  • Jkk6 Jkk6 on Apr 28, 2015

    FYI S. Korea and Japan octane ratings start at 91 if any cares. 91 - 93 - 95 In S. Korea so many fraud gas station owners. They put water in their gasses lol.

  • EvilEdHarris EvilEdHarris on Apr 28, 2015

    OK... So here goes... I work at an oil refinery and turning up the octane rating is not just that simple. First, there are only so many gallons of high octane fuel that can be produced from a barrel of oil. As the demand, or in this case proposed requirement, for higher octane fuel increases the more expensive the refined product will become. Raising the octane requirement will then leave us with a large volume of lower octane fuel that cannot be used. That fuel would probably be somewhere in the 75-80 octane range because it would be too low for effective blending. But what about the Europeans you ask. Well we already export our higher octane blending products and agents to them and guess what... they pay handsomely for it. Yes we could keep those products here for ourselves, but their market (engines and infrastructure) is already designed to run on higher octane fuel. Long story short, you can only make so much high octane fuel out of a barrel of oil. If the government and automakers want to go this route the price of fuel will go up more than they are leading on because the world demand for high octane products is more competitive. There would also be the environmental factor of dealing with the leftover low octane fuel that can no longer be blended. (It would likely be exported to 3rd world countries and burned in vehicles with no emissions controls for a negative overall environmental impact... where instead it could continue to be burned here in a relatively environmentally friendly manner) If I were to sum this all up and leave you with one statement it would be: THERE IS A FINITE AMOUNT OF HIGH OCTANE FUEL IN A BARREL OF OIL.

  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on Apr 28, 2015

    I will show my age, but there were the days where one could purchase 100 octane fuel (with Lead Tetraethyl, of course) for autos.