An Octane Test That Saves A Bundle? Don't Knock It

Getting the right octane level in gasoline--a key to engine performance--is costly for refiners because of the inaccuracy of current evaluation methods. To ensure compliance with federal regulations, refiners often add more octane than really needed. Now, Ashland Petroleum Co., of Ashland, Ky., has a process that adjusts octane during blending.

Currently, refiners measure octane levels in a finished fuel by determining how much a special test engine "knocks" during combustion. The new procedure--dubbed InfraTane--studies gasoline under near-infrared light. Different molecules absorb light at specific frequencies, so by measuring the amount of absorbed light refiners can evaluate octane levels and adjust them on-line to achieve the proper mix.

Ashland has installed this system in its St. Paul Park (Minn.) refinery and estimates InfraTane will save at least $1 million a year there by setting octane levels more accurately. And Ashland has licensed InfraTane to Fluid Data Inc. of Merrick, N.Y. Initial costs to other refiners are around $300,000.

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