Octanes are a family of hydrocarbon that are typical components of gasoline. They are colorless liquids that boil around 125 °C (260 °F). One member of the octane family, isooctane, is used as a reference standard to benchmark the tendency of gasoline or LPG fuels to resist self-ignition.
The octane rating of gasoline is measured in a test engine and is defined by comparison with the mixture of 2,2,4-trimethylpentane (iso-octane) and heptane that would have the same anti-knocking capacity as the fuel under test: the percentage, by volume, of 2,2,4-trimethylpentane in that mixture is the octane number of the fuel. 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. A rating of 90 does not mean that the gasoline contains just iso-octane and heptane in these proportions but that it has the same detonation resistance properties (generally, gasoline sold for common use never consists solely of iso-octane and heptane; it is a mixture of many hydrocarbons and often other additives). Because some fuels are more knock-resistant than pure iso-octane, the definition has been extended to allow for octane numbers greater than 100.
Aviation gasoline octane ratings
Aviation gasolines used in piston aircraft engines common in general aviation have a slightly different method of measuring the octane of the fuel. Similar to an AKI, it has two different ratings, although it is referred to only by the lower of the two. Aviation rich rating and corresponds to the octane rating of a test engine under forced induction operation common in high-performance and military piston aircraft. This utilizes a supercharger, and uses a significantly richer fuel/air ratio for improved detonation resistance.
The most commonly used current fuel, 100LL, has an aviation lean rating of 100 octane, and an aviation rich rating of 130.
The evaluation of the octane number by the two laboratory methods requires a standard engine, and the test procedure can be both expensive and time-consuming. The standard engine required for the test may not always be available, especially in out-of-the-way places or in small or mobile laboratories. These and other considerations led to the search for a rapid method for the evaluation of the anti-knock quality of gasoline. Such methods include FTIR, near infrared on-line analyzers (ASTM D-2885) and others. Deriving an equation that can be used for calculating the octane quality would also serve the same purpose with added advantages. The term Octane Index is often used to refer to the calculated octane quality in contradistinction to the (measured) research or motor octane numbers. The octane index can be of great service in the blending of gasoline. Motor gasoline, as marketed, is usually a blend of several types of refinery grades that are derived from different processes such as straight-run gasoline, reformate, cracked gasoline etc. These different grades are considered as one group when blending to meet final product specifications. Most refiners produce and market more than one grade of motor gasoline, differing principally in their anti-knock quality. The ability to predict the octane quality of the blends prior to blending is essential, something for which the calculated octane index is specially suited.