Drivers can increase vehicle fuel efficiency by opting for the new generation of seats equipped with ventilating features, U.S. Department of Energy researchers reveal.

DOE tests conclude ventilated seats keep vehicle occupants cooler, so they consequently reduce the use of the vehicle’s air conditioning system to achieve the desired level of comfort.

The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been collaborating with the automotive industry to find ways to cut engine parasitic losses from air conditioning compressors. NREL says its research demonstrates ventilated seats effectively save fuel.

“If all passenger vehicles had ventilated seats, we estimate there could be a 7.5% reduction in national air conditioning fuel use,” says John Rugh, project leader for NREL’s vehicle ancillary loads reduction project.

Such a reduction would translate to about 522 million gallons (1.97 billion L) of fuel saved annually, he says.

Employing thermal comfort measuring tools and subjective tests, the researchers are able to measure occupants’ thermal sensation with ventilated seats. The NREL teams concludes there is potential for a 7% cut in air conditioning compressor capacity.

NREL used ComfortCool seats supplied by W.E.T. Automotive Systems Ltd. The seats have two fans that pull air from the seat surface and under the seat. General Motors Corp.’s Cadillac STS offers the seat as an option.

The federal lab uses a unique thermal comfort-sensing ADvanced Automotive Manikin to measure changes in comfort.

ADAM breathes and sweats to provide measurable data and is used in conjunction with physiological and psychological models to assess comfort levels for occupants and interior thermal conditions.

NREL, located in Golden, CO, is the DOE’s primary facility for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. It is operated by the Midwest Research Institute and Battelle Memorial Institute.