Here’s some bad news for drivers of luxury cars and large sport-utility vehicles who are pumping the top grade of gasoline: the premium they pay over regular fuel is getting pricier.US and European refiners are scrambling to get enough octane to make high-quality gasoline. There are several potential reasons for the shortfall, including the fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the impact of US environmental regulations and a lack of refining capacity.
The net effect is that it’s making the fuel even more expensive than usual, when compared to regular unleaded. In the US, the price gap is around 75 cents a gallon — about 15% more than during the same period last year — data from automotive group AAA show. In the UK, the premium has widened by 25% on an annual basis, the most recent monthly data show.
To be sure, there is debate on what’s behind the octane shortfall. Wide octane spreads — the price difference between wholesale prices for premium and regular-grade gasoline — were primarily driven by a shortage of refining capacity, according to Robert Auers, manager of Refined Fuels Analytics, a division of RBN Energy.
Because of the lost capacity, there aren’t enough reformer units to upgrade low-octane naphtha, to raise its octane levels for use in making premium gasoline. That may eventually change as new refinery capacity comes online this year. “Still, we have octane spreads staying moderately wide,” Auers added.
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