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How are SI engine fuels rated?

Updated: 4/28/2022
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The octane rating is a measure of the autoignition resistance of gasoline and other fuels used in spark-ignition internal combustion engines. It is a measure of anti-detonation of a gasoline or fuel. Octane number is the number which gives the percentage, by volume, of iso-octane in a mixture of iso-octane and normal heptane, that would have the same anti-knocking capacity as the fuel which is under consideration. For example, gasoline with the same knocking characteristics as a mixture of 90% iso-octane and 10% heptane would have an octane rating of 90. Definition of octane rating The octane rating of a spark ignition engine fuel is the knock resistance (anti-knock rating) compared to a mixture of iso-octane (2,2,4-trimethylpentane, an isomer of octane) and n-heptane. By definition, iso-octane is assigned an octane rating of 100 and heptane is assigned an octane rating of zero. An 87-octane gasoline, for example, possesses the same anti-knock rating of a mixture of 87% (by volume) iso-octane and 13% (by volume) n- heptane. This does not mean, however, that the gasoline actually contains these hydrocarbons in these proportions. It simply means that it has the same autoignition resistance as the described mixture. A high tendency to autoignite, or low octane rating, is undesirable in a spark ignition engine but desirable in a diesel engine. The standard for the combustion quality of diesel fuel is the cetane number. A diesel fuel with a high cetane number has a high tendency to autoignite, as is preferred. It should be noted that octane rating does not relate to the energy content of the fuel (see heating value), nor the speed at which the flame initiated by the spark plug propagates across the cylinder. It is only a measure of the fuel's resistance to autoignition. It is for this reason that one highly branched form, or isomer, of octane (2,2,4- trimethylpentane) has (by definition) an octane rating of 100, whereas n-octane (see octane), which has a linear arrangement of the 8 carbon atoms, has an octane rating of -10, even though the two fuels have exactly the same chemical formula and virtually identical heating values and flame speeds.

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