It’s all about RON

Source: By Ron Lamberty, • Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2016

People who know me or work with me will tell you sometimes it seems like all I ever think about is RON. I’m not sure that’s fair, but I have to admit; I think about RON quite a bit. And I don’t happen to think I’m unique in that sense.  I mean, don’t a lot of you have RON on your mind almost every day? RON is very important. In fact, I think it’s fair to say one of ethanol’s most valuable assets is RON.

Hang on a second. It just occurred to me that you could say almost exactly what I just wrote, if you were talking about the Research Octane Number (RON) of ethanol and blends of ethanol and gasoline!

Ethanol’s high octane value is important and valuable, and it’s a part of most math and money discussions I regularly have with fuel station owners. In market conditions like we’re seeing today, as ethanol’s traditional price advantage versus gasoline shrinks, retailers need to be reminded to emphasize the higher octane of ethanol blends. Our industry is experiencing an octane lovefest of late, and even recent petroleum marketer events I’ve attended have talked about higher octane demand for future fuels. And we’re all talking about octane because the automotive world is talking about octane. Ethanol’s octane and a collection of other fuel chemistry advantages interest automakers as they develop vehicles that meet future government standards, running on a high-efficiency, “super-premium,” a 98 RON or 100 RON fuel.

There it is again: RON.  And there is a reason—beyond writing my own name 21 times in one column—I am irritatingly and repeatedly using the term RON instead of octane. In the U.S., when we use the term octane, we refer to the anti-knock index (AKI) of a fuel. AKI is calculated by adding RON and the motor octane number (MON) and dividing by two. That’s the (R+M)/2 equation you see on AKI octane stickers in the United States. RON is higher than MON or AKI, and in most of the world, owners’ manuals, gas caps and octane stickers on fuel dispensers all use RON to express a fuel’s octane rating.

And that’s how we should label midlevel ethanol blends, with each blend’s RON rating.

Most of you are aware of the Federal Trade Commission’s recent final rating rule for gasoline blends with more than 10 percent ethanol. Starting July 14, stations offering higher ethanol blends will post orange and black labels much like the current E15 label, indicating the ethanol percentage in the nearest multiple of 10, or “51 percent to 83 percent ethanol” for blends above 50 percent. They’re also required to say ‘‘use only in flex-fuel vehicles/may harm other engines.’’

While the FTC decided not to require octane rating as part of the midlevel or high-level ethanol blend rating rule, the ruling did not prohibit posting an octane rating. There are references to earlier octane rules that talked about ethanol’s high octane ratings confusing and misinforming customers (Really? Where has FTC been as the oil industry continues to confuse and misinform everyone about E15 and the RFS?), and that’s why the ethanol industry shouldn’t use AKI labels. We’ll embrace RON.

Yeah, RON gives midlevel ethanol an unfair advantage—one we should absolutely use. And we will do so, properly. FTC says retailers “must possess a reasonable basis, consisting of competent and reliable evidence,” of the octane rating on a fuel dispenser, so we will have RON checked out by approved testing labs before we start putting RON stickers on dispensers across the nation. And then the RON age can begin.