Developments to Watch
THIS LAB IN A BOX CAN TELL IF OCTANE MEASURES UP
When a car engine pings, it's often a sign that it needs higher-octane gasoline. But how do you tell if you're getting the octane you're paying for? Until recently, only a lab could tell--through an elaborate, hour-long process that compresses gasoline until it ignites without a spark. The intensity of the explosion determines the octane level.
Now, PetroSpec Inc. in Newton, Mass., has developed a portable way to measure octane. Its $15,000, lunchbox-size device houses a spectrometer that analyzes light passing through a sample to measure the amount of gasoline, alcohol, and additives it contains. A computer chip then calculates octane levels. The device is simple enough for gas-station owners and consumer watchdogs to do their own double-checks.EDITED BY RUTH COXETER