Air-Conditioned Seats!

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Down in the American south air conditioning is a necessity. Problem is that making cool air costs gas money. Due to air conditioning, we put thousands of tons of extra carbon in the air each year! And, all of this is just to make our cars more comfortable in warm weather. The folks at this Atlanta, GA Kia dealership understand!

How about air-conditioned seats instead of typical air conditioning? As it turns out many manufacturers now offer air-conditioned seats in their cars. By confining the cooled air directly to the space where the driver (or passenger) is sitting, air-conditioned seats use energy better than air conditioners that cool the whole interior of the car.

How does air-conditioned seating work? Do they still use a central car air conditioner? How does the air get escape the seat so that it can cool the person sitting in it? We will answer those questions and more below.

The basic model for air-conditioned seating, developed by scientists at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), works like this: The car seat’s fabric is a porous mesh. Multiple fans inside the seat create air circulation, which blows through a diffusion layer that spreads the cooling effect throughout the seat and outward through its mesh, cooling the surface. A typical car seat blocks your body’s built-in cooling unit. Having a seat pressing against your back and bottom prevents the water vapor from making its way out, causing it to condense into sweat. But the porous covering of an air-conditioned seat lets your body’s natural cooling system work.

But some air-conditioned car seats also make use of a cooling element. Like most air conditioners, they work on a compression, condensation, expansion cycle. Air conditioning works on a simple principle: When a gas (in this case referred to as a refrigerant) is compressed, it gets warmer and when it expands it gets cooler. Until recently, the gas used most of the time as a refrigerant in air conditioning systems was Freon, the commercial name for a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) manufactured by DuPont. However, Freon has been mostly replaced in automobile air conditioners by the hydrofluorocarbon HFC-134a.

In an air conditioner, the gas is run through a compressor. Then it passes through a condenser where it cools into a liquid, dissipating its heat in the process. (The dissipated heat is released outside the car’s cabin.) Finally, the cooled liquid passes through an expansion valve, where it turns back into a gas. The process takes place in a closed loop consisting of coiled tubes, so that it can be done over and over. Air is forced past the part of the loop that has the cold gas and becomes chilled.

Air-conditioned seats that use refrigerated air either have a small cooling element based on this principle, or use air pumped from the car air conditioning system’s main cooling element. Because the space being cooled is limited to one seat, relatively little energy is needed compared with normal vehicle air conditioning.

  

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