Octane rating or octane number is a standard measure of the performance of a motor or aviation fuel. The higher the octane number, the more compression the fuel can withstand before detonating (igniting). In broad terms, fuels with a higher octane rating are used in high performance petrol engines that require higher compression ratios. In contrast, fuels with lower octane numbers (but higher cetane numbers) are ideal for diesel engines, because diesel engines (also referred to as compression-ignition engines) do not compress the fuel but rather compress only air and then inject the fuel into the air heated up by compression, whereas petrol engines (also referred to as gasoline engines) rely on ignition of air and fuel compressed together as a mixture without ignition, which is then ignited at the end of the compression stroke using spark plugs. Therefore, high compressibility of the fuel matters mainly for petrol engines. Use of petrol (gasoline) with lower octane numbers may lead to the problem of engine knocking.
In a normal spark-ignition engine, the air-fuel mixture is heated due to being compressed and is then triggered to burn (relatively) slowly by the spark plug and ignition system. If it is heated and/or compressed too much, then it will explode when triggered (detonate), or even self-ignite before the ignition system sparks. This causes much higher pressures than engine components are designed for and can cause a "knocking" or "pinging" sound. Knocking can cause major engine damage if severe.
The most typically used engine management systems found in automobiles today have a knock sensor that monitors if knock is being produced by the fuel being used. In modern computer controlled engines, the ignition timing will be automatically altered by the engine management system to reduce the knock (detonation) to an acceptable level.
Isooctane (upper) has an octane rating of 100 whereas n-heptane has an octane rating of 0.
Octanes are a family of hydrocarbon that are typical components of gasoline. They are colourless liquids that boil around 125 °C (260 °F). One member of the octane family, isooctane, is used as a reference standard to benchmark the tendency of gasoline/petrol or LPG fuels to resist self-igniting.
The octane rating of gasoline is measured in a test engine and is defined by comparison with the mixture of 2,2,4-trimethylpentane (iso-octane) and heptane that would have the same anti-knocking capacity as the fuel under test: the percentage, by volume, of 2,2,4-trimethylpentane in that mixture is the octane number of the fuel. For example, petrol with the same knocking characteristics as a mixture of 90% iso-octane and 10% heptane would have an octane rating of 90. A rating of 90 does not mean that the petrol contains just iso-octane and heptane in these proportions but that it has the same detonation resistance properties (generally, petrol sold for common use never consists solely of iso-octane and heptane; it is a mixture of several different hydrocarbons, and often other additives). Because some fuels are more knock-resistant than pure iso-octane, the definition has been extended to allow for octane numbers greater than 100.
Octane ratings are not indicators of the energy content of fuels. (See Effects below and Heat of combustion). They are only a measure of the fuel's tendency to burn in a controlled manner, rather than exploding in an uncontrolled manner. Where the octane number is raised by blending in ethanol, energy content per volume is reduced. Ethanol BTUs can be compared with gasoline BTUs in heat of combustion tables.
It is possible for a fuel to have a Research Octane Number (RON) more than 100, because iso-octane is not the most knock-resistant substance available. Racing fuels, avgas, LPG and alcohol fuels such as methanol may have octane ratings of 110 or significantly higher. Typical "octane booster" gasoline additives include MTBE, ETBE, isooctane and toluene. Lead in the form of tetraethyllead was once a common additive, but its use for fuels for road vehicles has been progressively phased-out worldwide, beginning in the 1970s.
The most common type of octane rating worldwide is the Research Octane Number (RON). RON is determined by running the fuel in a test engine with a variable compression ratio under controlled conditions, and comparing the results with those for mixtures of iso-octane and n-heptane.
There is another type of octane rating, called Motor Octane Number (MON), which is a better measure of how the fuel behaves when under load, as it is determined at 900 rpm engine speed, instead of the 600 rpm for RON. MON testing uses a similar test engine to that used in RON testing, but with a preheated fuel mixture, higher engine speed, and variable ignition timing to further stress the fuel's knock resistance. Depending on the composition of the fuel, the MON of a modern gasoline will be about 8 to 10 points lower than the RON, but there is no direct link between RON and MON. Normally, fuel specifications require both a minimum RON and a minimum MON.
In most countries, including Australia, New Zealand and all of those in Europe, the "headline" octane rating shown on the pump is the RON, but in Canada, the United States, Brazil, and some other countries, the headline number is the average of the RON and the MON, called the Anti-Knock Index (AKI, and often written on pumps as (R+M)/2). It may also sometimes be called the Pump Octane Number (PON).
Because of the 8 to 10 point difference noted above, the octane rating shown in Canada and the United States is 4 to 5 points lower than the rating shown elsewhere in the world for the same fuel. This difference is known as the fuel's sensitivity, and is not typically published for those countries that use the Anti-Knock Index labelling system.
See the table in the following section for a comparison.
Another type of octane rating, called Observed Road Octane Number (RdON), is derived from testing gasolines in real world multi-cylinder engines, normally at wide open throttle. It was developed in the 1920s and is still reliable today. The original testing was done in cars on the road but as technology developed the testing was moved to chassis dynamometers with environmental controls to improve consistency.
Gasoline used in piston aircraft common in general aviation have slightly different methods of measuring the octane of the fuel. Similar to AKI, it has two different ratings, although it is referred to only by the lower of the two. One is referred to as the "aviation lean" rating and is the same as the MON of the fuel up to 100. The second is the "aviation rich" rating and corresponds to the octane rating of a test engine under forced induction operation common in high-performance and military piston aircraft. This utilizes a supercharger, and uses a significantly richer fuel/air ratio for improved detonation resistance.
The most commonly used current fuel 100LL, has an aviation lean rating of 100 octane, and an aviation rich rating of 130.
Higher octane ratings correlate to higher activation energies: This being the amount of applied energy required to initiate combustion. Since higher octane fuels have higher activation energy requirements, it is less likely that a given compression will cause uncontrolled ignition, otherwise known as autoignition or detonation.
The compression ratio is directly related to power and to thermodynamic efficiency of an internal combustion engine (see Otto-cycle). Engines with higher compression ratios develop more area under the Otto-Cycle curve, thus they extract more energy from a given quantity of fuel.
During the compression stroke of an internal combustion engine, as the air / fuels mix is compressed its temperature rises (PV=nRT).
A fuel with a higher octane rating is less prone to auto-ignition and can withstand a greater rise in temperature during the compression stroke of an internal combustion engine without auto-igniting, thus allowing more power to be extracted from the Otto-Cycle.
If during the compression stroke the air / fuel mix reaches a temperature greater than the auto-ignition temperature of the fuel, the fuel self or auto-ignites. When auto-ignition occurs (before the piston reaches the top of its travel) the up-rising piston is then attempting to squeeze the rapidly heating fuel charge. This will usually destroy an engine quickly if allowed to continue.
In the case of the normally aspirated engine, at the start of the compression stroke the cylinder air / fuel volume is very low, this translates into a low starting pressure. As the piston travels upward, abnormally high cylinder pressures may result in the mixture auto-igniting or detonating, which is why conservative compression ratios are used in consumer vehicles. In a forced induction engine where at the start of the compression stroke the cylinder pressure is already raised (having a greater volume of air/fuel) Exp. 202kPa (29.4Psi) the starting pressure or air / fuel volume would be 2 times that of the normally aspirated engine. This would translate into an effective compression ratio of 20:1 vs. 10:1 for the normally aspirated. This is why many forced induction engines have compression ratios in the 8:1 range.
Many high-performance engines are designed to operate with a high maximum compression, and thus demand fuels of higher octane. A common misconception is that power output or fuel efficiency can be improved by burning fuel of higher octane than that specified by the engine manufacturer. The power output of an engine depends in part on the energy density of the fuel being burnt. Fuels of different octane ratings may have similar densities, but because switching to a higher octane fuel does not add more hydrocarbon content or oxygen, the engine cannot develop more power.
However, burning fuel with a lower octane rating than that for which the engine is designed often results in a reduction of power output and efficiency. Many modern engines are equipped with a knock sensor (a small piezoelectric microphone), which sends a signal to the engine control unit, which in turn retards the ignition timing when detonation is detected. Retarding the ignition timing reduces the tendency of the fuel-air mixture to detonate, but also reduces power output and fuel efficiency. Because of this, under conditions of high load and high temperature, a given engine may have a more consistent power output with a higher octane fuel, as such fuels are less prone to detonation. Some modern high performance engines are actually optimized for higher than pump premium (93 AKI in the US). The 2001 - 2007 BMW M3 with the S54 engine is one such car. Car and Driver magazine tested a car using a dynamometer, and found that the power output increased as the AKI was increased up to approximately 96 AKI.
Most fuel filling stations have two storage tanks (even those offering 3 or 4 octane levels): those motorists who purchase intermediate grade fuels are given a mixture of higher and lower octane fuels. "Premium" grade is fuel of higher octane, and the minimum grade sold is fuel of lower octane. Purchasing 91 octane fuel (where offered) simply means that more fuel of higher octane is blended with commensurately less fuel of lower octane, than when purchasing a lower grade. The detergents and other additives in the fuel are often, but not always, identical.
The octane rating was developed by chemist Russell Marker at the Ethyl Corporation in 1926. The selection of n-heptane as the zero point of the scale was due to its availability in high purity. Other isomers of heptane produced from crude oil have greatly different ratings.
The selection of octane ratings available at the pump can vary greatly from region to region.
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 (5% ethanol content) from a small number of service stations, most of which are located in major cities (stopped in August 2008). United Petroleum sells 100 RON unleaded fuel (10% ethanol content) at a small number of its service stations (originally only two, but it has now expanded to 67 outlets nationwide). All fuel in Australia is unleaded except for some aviation fuels.
Bahrain: 91 and 95 (RON), standard in all petrol station in the country and advertised as (Jayyid) for Regular or 91 and (Mumtaz) for Premium or 95.
China: 93 and 97 (RON) are commonly offered. In limited areas higher rating such as 99 RON is available. In some rural areas it can be difficult to find fuel with over 93 RON.
Chile: 93, 95 and 97 RON are standard at almost all gas stations thorough Chile. The three types are unleaded.
Colombia: "Ecopetrol", Colombia's monopoly of refining and distribution of gasoline establishes a minimum AKI of 81 octanes for "Corriente" gasoline  and minimum AKI of 87 octanes for "Extra" gasoline.
Costa Rica: RECOPE, Costa Rica's distribution monopoly, establishes the following ratings: Plus 91 (at least 91 RON) and Super (at least 95 RON).
Croatia: All fuel stations offer unleaded "Eurosuper BS" (abbreviation "BS" meaning "no sulfur content") 95 RON fuel, many also offer "Eurosuper Plus BS" 98 RON. Some companies offer 100 RON fuel instead of 98.
Cyprus: All fuel stations offer unleaded 95 and 98 RON and a few offer 100 RON as well.
Denmark: 95 and 98 RON are common choices. Some varieties of low percentage Ethanol mixtures are offered at larger gas stations. E85 is being implemented but has yet to be finalized in the parliament.
Ecuador: "Extra" with 87 and "Super" with 92 (RON) are available in all fuel stations. "Extra" is the most commoly used. All fuels are unleaded.
Egypt: 80 RON is commonly used for all old cars. 90 RON and 92 RON are available at almost all gas stations with a negligible price difference between them. 95 RON is becoming more common especially in the big cities and upscale suburbs. All fuels are unleaded. Most cars in Egypt use 92 RON while 90 RON is becoming extremely unused by the public. 95 RON is becoming very expensive compared to 90 RON and 92 RON therefore also becoming unused.
Finland: 95 and 98 (RON), advertised as such, at almost all gas stations. Most cars run on 95, but 98 is available for vehicles that need higher octane fuel, or older models containing parts easily damaged by high ethanol content. Shell offers V-Power, advertised as "over 99 octane", instead of 98. In the beginning of 2011 95 RON was replaced by 95E10 containing 10% ethanol, and 98 RON by 98E5, containing 5% ethanol. ST1 also offers RE85 on some stations, which is 85% ethanol made from biodegradable waste (from which the advertised name "ReFuel" comes). RE85 is only suitable for flexifuel cars that can run on high-percentage ethanol.
Germany: "Super E10" 95 RON and "Super Plus E5" 98 RON are available practically everywhere. Big suppliers such as Shell or Aral offer 100 RON gasoline (Shell V-Power, Aral Ultimate) at almost every fuel station. "Normal" 91 RON is only rarely offered because lower production amounts make it more expensive than "Super" 95 RON. Due to a new European Union law, gas stations are being required to offer a minimum rate of the new mixture of "Super" 95 RON with up to 10% Ethanol branded as "Super E10". Producers are discontinuing "Super E5" 95 RON with <5% Ethanol so cars that are unable to use E10 must use 98 RON petrol instead.
Greece (Hellas): 95 RON (standard unleaded), 97+ & 100 RON unleaded offered by some companies (e.g. EKO, Shell, BP). Also available Super LRP 96 RON for older (non-catalytic) vehicles.
Hong Kong: only 98 RON is available in the market. There have been calls to re-introduce 95 RON, but the calls have been rejected by all petrol station chains, citing that 95 RON was phased out because of market forces.
India: India's ordinary and premium petrols are of 91 RON. The premium petrols are generally ordinary fuels with additives, that do not really change the octane value. Two variants, "Speed 93" and "Speed 97", were launched, with RON values of 93 and 97. India's economy-class vehicles usually have compression ratios under 10:1, thus enabling them to use lower-octane petrol without engine knocking.
Indonesia: Indonesia's "Premium" petrol rated at 88 RON and being subsidized it cost only about US$0.65/liter. Other options are "Pertamax" rated at 92 RON and the "Pertamax Plus" rated at RON 95. "Pertamax Racing Fuel", a bioethanol flexfuel rated at RON 100 (sold in gallon can container only). Total and Shell stations only sell RON 92 and 95 gasoline.
Ireland: 95 RON "unleaded" is the only petrol type available through stations, although E5 (99 RON) is becoming more commonplace.
Italy: 95 RON is the only compulsory gasoline offered (verde, "green"), only a few fuel stations (Agip, IP, IES, OMV) offer 98 RON as the premium type, many Shell and Tamoil stations close to the cities offer also V-Power Gasoline rated at 100 RON. Recently Agip introduced "Blu Super+", a 100 RON gasoline.
Israel: 95 RON & 98 RON are normally available at most petrol stations. 96 RON is also available at a large number of gas stations but 95 RON is more preferred because it's cheaper and performance differences aren't very wide and noticeable. "Regular" fuel is 95 RON. All variants are unleaded.
Japan: Since 1986, "regular" is >=89 RON, and "high octane" is >=96 RON, lead free. Those values are defined in standard JIS K 2202. Sometimes "high octane" is sold under different names, such as "F-1".
Latvia: 95 RON and 98 RON widely available.
Lebanon: 95 RON and 98 RON are widely available.
Lithuania: 92 RON, 95 RON and 98 RON widely available. In "LUKOIL" gas stations E85 (bioethanol) gasoline, 98E15 (15% of ethanol), 98E25 (25% of ethanol) are available.
Malaysia: Had RON 92 until September 2009. Replaced with "regular" unleaded fuel Ron 95 RON, "premium" fuel is rated at 97 RON (but for Shell 97 RON is V-Power 97, and Shell's V-Power Racing is rated at min 97 RON.)
México: Pemex Magna (87 AKI) is sold as a "regular" fuel and is available at every station. And Pemex Premium (92 AKI) is sold at almost all gas stations. Both variants are unleaded.
Montenegro: 95 RON is sold as a "regular" fuel. As a "premium" fuel, 98 RON is sold. Both variants are unleaded.
Netherlands: 95 RON "Euro" is sold at every station, whereas 98 RON "Super Plus" is being phased out in favor of "premium" fuels, which are all 95 RON fuels with extra additives. Shell V-Power is a 97 RON (labelled as 95 due to the legalities of only using 95 or 98 labelling), some independent tests have shown that one year after introduction[when?] it was downgraded to 95 RON, whereas in neighboring Germany Shell V-Power consists of the regular 100 RON fuel.
New Zealand: 91 RON "Regular" and 95 RON "Premium" are both widely available. 98 RON is available instead of 95 RON at some (BP, Mobil, Gull) service stations in larger urban areas.
Philippines: A brand of Petron, Petron Blaze is rated at 100 RON (the only brand of gasoline in the Philippines without an ethanol blend). Other "super premium" brands like Petron XCS, Caltex Gold, Shell V-Power are rated at 95-97 RON, while Petron Xtra Unleaded, Caltex Silver, and Shell Super Unleaded are rated at 93 RON.
Poland: Eurosuper 95 (RON 95) is sold in every gas station. Super Plus 98 (RON 98) is available in most stations, sometimes under brand (Orlen - Verva, BP - Ultimate, Shell - V-Power) and usually containing additives. Shell offers V-Power Racing fuel which is rated RON 100.
Portugal: 95 RON "Euro" is sold in every station and 98 RON "Super" being offered in almost every station.
Russia and CIS countries: 80 RON (76 MON) is the minimum available, the standard is 92 RON and 95 RON. 98 RON is available on some stations but it's usually quite expensive compared to the lower octane rating fuels.
Saudi Arabia: Two types of fuel are available at all gas stations in Saudi Arabia. "Premium 91" (RON 91) where the pumps are coloured green, and "Super Premium 95" (RON 95) where the pumps are coloured red. While gas stations in Saudi Arabia are privatized, the prices are regulated by the authorities and have a fixed at S.A.R. 0.45 (U.S. $0.12) and S.A.R. 0.60 (U.S. $0.16) per litre respectively. Prior to 2006, only Super Premium RON 95 was available and the pumps weren't coloured in any specific order. The public didn't know what Octane rating was, therefore big educating campaigns were spread, telling the people to use the "red gas" only for high end cars, and save money on using the "green gas" for regular cars and trucks.
Singapore: All four providers, Caltex, ExxonMobil, SPC and Shell have 3 grades of petrol. Typically, these are 92, 95, and 98 RON. However, since 2009, Shell has removed 92 RON.
South Africa: "regular" unleaded fuel is 95 RON in coastal areas. Inland (higher elevation) "regular" unleaded fuel is 93 RON; once again most fuel stations optionally offer 95 RON.
Spain: 95 RON "Euro" is sold in every station with 98 RON "Super" being offered in most stations. Many stations around cities and highways offer other high-octane "premium" brands.
Sri Lanka: In Ceypetco filling stations, 92 RON is the regular petrol and 95 RON is called 'Super Petrol', which comes at a premium price. In LIOC filling stations, 90 RON remains as regular petrol and 92 RON is available as 'Premium Petrol'. The cost of premium petrol is lower than the cost of super petrol. (Sri Lanka switched their regular petrol from 90 RON to 92 RON on January 1, 2014)
Sweden: 95 RON, 98 RON and E85 are widely available.
Taiwan: 92 RON, 95 RON and 98 RON are widely available at gas stations in Taiwan.
Thailand: 91 RON and 95 RON are widely available. 91 RON benzine/petrol withdrawn on Jan 1st 2013 to increase uptake of gasohol fuels.
Trinidad and Tobago: 92 RON (Super) and 95 RON (Premium) are widely available.
Turkey: 95 RON and 98 RON are widely available in gas stations. 92 RON (Regular) has been dropped in 2006.
Ukraine: the standard gasoline is 95 RON, but 92 RON gasoline is also widely available and popular as a less expensive replacement for 95 RON gasoline. 80 RON gasoline is available for old cars and motorcycles.
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. In April 2006, BP started a public trial of the super-high octanepetrolBP 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 was available throughout the UK in only 10 filling stations, and was priced at about two and half times more than their 97 RON fuel. In March 2010, BP stopped sales of Ultimate Unleaded 102, citing the closure of their specialty fuels manufacturing facility. Shell V-Power is also available, but in a 99 RON octane rating, and Tesco fuel stations also supply the Greenergy produced 99 RON "Momentum99".
United States: in the US octane rating is displayed in AKI. In the Rocky Mountain (high elevation) states, 85 AKI (90 RON) is the minimum octane, and 91 AKI (95 RON) is the maximum octane available in fuel. The reason for this is that in higher-elevation areas, a typical naturally aspirated engine draws in less air mass per cycle because of the reduced density of the atmosphere. This directly translates to less fuel and reduced absolute compression in the cylinder, therefore deterring knock. It is safe to fill a carbureted car 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 (98 RON) is available. As of January, 2011, over 40 states and a total of over 2500 stations offer ethanol-based E-85 fuel with 105 AKI. Often, filling stations near US racing tracks will offer higher octane levels such as 100 AKI .
Venezuela: 91 RON and 95 RON gasoline is available nationwide, in all PDV gas stations. 95 RON petrol is the most widely used in the country, although most cars in Venezuela would work with 91 RON gasoline. This is because petrol prices are heavily subsided by the government (0.$083 per gallon 95 RON,vs 0.$061 per gallon 91 RON). All gasoline in Venezuela is unleaded.
Vietnam: 92 is in every gas station and 95 is in the urban areas.
Zimbabwe: 93 octane available with no other grades of fuels available, E10 which is an ethanol blend of fuel at 10% ethanol is available the octane rating however is still to be tested and confirmed but it is assumed that its around 95 Octane. E85 available from 3 outlets with an octane rating AKI index of between 102-105 depending on the base petrol the Ethanol is blended with.