Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Today's SciAm Moment

Another excerpt from the July 2007 issue of Scientific American, this time from the Fact or Fiction? column (yes, guess what I've been reading on the bus to work):

Most modern cars, however, are designed to employ a specific compression ratio, a measure of how much room is available to the fuel when the piston is at the bottom and the top of the cylinder. This compression ratio—somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to one—tolerates lower octane fuels (such as regular gasoline, good old 87 octane) without knocking. "The compression ratio is fixed by the designer of the engine," Green says. "The regular fuel will burn properly and the premium fuel will burn properly and therefore there is no reason you should pay the extra money."...

...Such high compression ratios—and the premium fuels that go with them—could be turned to efficiency, rather than speed, Green notes, especially if put into the engines of lighter cars like his Honda Civic. Other automotive fuels, such as ethanol, can also offer high octane ratings, allowing oil companies to use more volatile gasoline in such blends. But for standard cars on the road today, purchasing premium gasoline is simply paying a premium for a fuel that delivers no added benefits. "If you think you need it," Green says, "you're being very eccentric."

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