Higher-Octane Fuels Are Under Development, Report Says
Electric powertrains, lightweight materials, and improved transmissions are among the many technologies automakers are touting to increase fuel economy in their vehicle fleets. But the industry has yet to take advantage of higher-octane fuels, which could become an important way for boosting efficiency in the future.
Automakers and oil companies are quietly working on higher-octane fuels and engines that will accommodate them, reports the Detroit Free Press. According to some in the industry, increasing octane could be one of the cheapest solutions out there to increase vehicle fuel economy and reduce C02 emissions. Cars can use more of the energy in gasoline, allowing them to travel farther on the same amount of fuel.
A number of automakers have expressed interest in more efficient fuels. Ford product development boss Raj Nair has said that his company is prioritizing “new fuel formulations” that will be better for the environment. Marie Valentine, Toyota senior principal engineer for energy and environmental research, pointedly said, “The general position is that [premium] is what automakers are thinking for the future octane level.”
Meanwhile, GM Director of global propulsion labs David Brooks said at a recent engineering conference, “We don’t need a new fuel—we just need improved gasoline.” He noted 114 octane would be ideal from an engineering perspective at least.
Of course, there’s a catch. Consumers will likely feel the cost of the more premium gasoline when they head to the pump. It’s unclear how much prices could increase, but as the Detroit Free Press points out, many companies are keeping quiet about their research because they aren’t sure how to sell the public on rising fuel costs. “Ten cents a gallon more is probably palatable,” said an industry executive who asked not to be named because his company’s plans are secret. “A quarter risks customer acceptance.”
We may not have a choice, though. According to the report, the lowest-octane fuels currently on the market will be phased out eventually.
Meanwhile, Europe already offers higher-octane gasoline on a widespread basis. Its 98-octane fuel has been shown to boost fuel economy 10 percent compared with U.S. gasoline at premium levels of 92-94 octane. Most gas sold in the U.S. ranges from 87 to 94 octane.