Cetane Number

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 Cetane number or CN is a measurement of the combustion quality of diesel fuel during compression ignition. It is a significant expression of diesel fuel quality among a number of other measurements that determine overall diesel fuel quality.
Cetane number is actually a measure of a fuel's ignition delay; the time period between the start of injection and start of combustion (ignition) of the fuel. In a particular diesel engine, higher cetane fuels will have shorter ignition delay periods than lower cetane fuels. Cetane numbers are only used for the relatively light distillate diesel oils. For heavy (residual) fuel oil two other scales are used CCAI and CII.
Generally, diesel engines run well with a CN from 40 to 55. Fuels with higher cetane number which have shorter ignition delays provide more time for the fuel combustion process to be completed. Hence, higher speed diesels operate more effectively with higher cetane number fuels. There is no performance or emission advantage when the CN is raised past approximately 55; after this point, the fuel's performance hits a plateau.