Do you wish gasoline—all gasolines—had more octane, here in America? Do you believe that it’s the peoples’ right to fill their cars up with a potent brew of at least 95 RON octane? If so, you should probably hang out with GM Vice President of Global Propulsion systems Dan Nicholson, because I can tell you two will get on just famously.
See, he announced that he’d like to see all gas as high an octane as premium gas in a talk he gave to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.
Why does this mad, impetuous fool want all gas to be premium gas? Is this some kind of Marxist thing? Hardly. It’s to help GM (and, really, all carmakers) meet stricter fuel economy standards.
Essentially, higher octane fuel is better at one thing: resisting detonation at higher compressions. It doesn’t have any more stored energy than lower-octane gasoline, it’s just better at reducing knock, which is what automotive engineers call premature detonation, the premature ejaculation of the internal combustion engine.
Essentially, the higher the compression your engine can be, the more efficient it can be, and the better fuel economy, and so on.
According to GM’s proposal, baseline engines calibrated for 95 RON could start to appear around 2022-2023. Options for engines designed for even higher octane ratings are possible, but unlike most premium-fuel cars today, such engines would likely not be able to tolerate lower-octane fuels, and as such would require safeguards to prevent mis-fueling, which would require a pretty substantial infrastructure investment by fuel companies.
The minimum octane for gasoline in the EU seems like it’s much higher than in America, but it’s a bit deceptive, as there are different standards in use. Engineering Explained does a good job of clearing all this up:
Of course, it’s by no means assured that higher octane gasoline will become the norm in America, but it’s interesting to see that a company as large as GM is pushing for that to happen.
If it does happen, high-octane gasoline is not likely to get magically cheaper to make, so some expectation of higher fuel prices seems reasonable, though that could get mitigated somewhat by volume; currently, only about 10 percent of gas sold is premium.