A percentage indicating the ignition quality of diesel fuels. It is actually a measure of a fuel's ignition delay. This is 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 number is determined by an engine test using two reference fuel blends of known cetane numbers. The reference fuels are prepared by blending normal cetane (n-hexadecane), having a value of 100, with heptamethyl nonane, having a value of 15.