Powertrain executives press for higher octane gasoline to help meet mpg, CO2 rules

Source: By RICHARD TRUETT, Automotive News • Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2016

DETROIT — Automakers say they need higher octane gasoline — more in line with what is available in Europe today — to meet the government’s strict 2025 fuel economy and C02 standards.

During a panel discussion today at the SAE world congress on future engine and transmission technology, powertrain executives from General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Honda agreed that higher octane gasoline — about 95 — will be needed.

Throughout most of the U.S., gasoline ranges from 87 octane for regular to 93 octane for premium. Octane is a measurement of how much compression fuel can handle before it detonates in an engine cylinder.

High octane fuel allows higher compression engines. The higher the compression, the more power an engine can produce. A high compression engine runs more efficiently, produces more power and less C02 because the fuel burns more predictably.

Many of today’s downsized turbocharged engines are running compression ratios of between 10:1 to 12:1.

Europe, which uses the RON method for measuring octane, rates premium gasoline at 100 octane, while that same blend of gasoline in the United States and Canada, rated on the AKI or Anti-Knock Index, would be rated at 95 octane.

The petroleum industry has been reluctant to raise octane because of the added costs for consumers. Premium 93 octane fuel today is often priced 50 cents or more higher than regular.

Dan Nicholson, vice president of General Motors Propulsion Systems, said he has carved out time in his schedule to regularly lobby governments and the petroleum industry to raise octane.

“If we are going to get to an optimal, societal C02 solution, we will need to work together,” Nicholson said.

Tony Ockelford, director of product and business strategy for Ford’s powertrain operations, outlined two ways to elevate the octane debate: the auto industry needs to educate drivers on the benefits of higher octane and how it enables cleaner and more powerful and efficient engines, and continue collaborating.

“100 RON has been on the table for a long time,” Ockelford said. “The only way we will ever get there is to continue to push and work in a collaborative way,” he added.

Bob Lee, head of Fiat Chrysler’s powertrain and electric propulsion efforts, has been lobbying for higher octane at industry conferences for years. “We need to find a new equilibrium,” he said. “Whether it is 98 or 100 octane, we need something at that level.”

In the last six years, automakers have dramatically increased the amount of horsepower per liter developed by engines by raising compression, installing turbochargers and adding direct fuel injection. But without higher octane fuel, it will be difficult to further boost power output.

“Higher octane is necessary for better engine efficiency,” said GM’s Nicholson. “It is a proven low-cost enabler to lower CO2. 100 RON fuel is the right fuel for the 2020-25 timeframe.”