Unless you drive a high-end performance vehicle, chances are you don’t fill up your car with high octane gas. The higher price tag of those fuels keeps many consumers away, not to mention the fact that many engines are designed for lower octane fuels. For years, automotive engineers have touted the benefits of high-octane fuels, claiming that they are a much cleaner, more efficient form of fossil fuels. Sounds great, right? Why don’t we all use higher octane gas? Many lawmakers and automotive research groups want it that way, but it turns out there are significant political hurdles to overcome first, including the highest of them all: Big Oil Lobbyists.
If you’re unfamiliar with octane ratings, they are a numerical system to describe a fuel’s ability to withstand compression before it combusts. More compression means less fuel is need to produce the same amount of output; thus, higher octane fuels could result in somewhere between a 3% and 4% increase in efficiency. With fuel prices rising and fossil fuels falling out of favor, many economists, automotive researchers, and environmental advocates want to create new national standards which could see high octane fuels become mandatory.
While the push for high octane standards have been a minority position for years, the political winds are now shifting in their favor. That’s according to Steve Zimmer, executive director of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research funded by the Detroit “Big Three” which includes Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler. Zimmer says these new standards might seem like a simple ploy to get more money out of consumers’ wallets, but the reality is that such a national standard could be a win-win-win:
Our members are poised to move forward. What we need next is the full engagement of energy producers, distributors and retailers, and particularly policymakers.This is an opportunity to create a win for the environment, the auto industry and particularly for our consumers by keeping vehicles affordable and performance and efficiency high.
Still, many lobbyists from Big Oil and agribusinesses which supply ethanol aren’t happy about the new standards, as they would likely mean a decrease in overall fuel use and therefore profits. Can’t have that, can we? Still, many legislators and even EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are now pushing for these standards. Will high octane gas become the new standard?