For electric and hybrid car designers, any way to reduce electricity use is a good thing, because saving electricity helps the car get a longer range. Technicians at BMW are working on several new solutions to save electricity in their cars, including new infrared heating systems.

The infrared (IR) heating systems work by directly warming each passenger through radiant heat. Unlike an ordinary heating system, which warms air and then uses fans to blow it around the car, the IR system doesn’t need to move air. Without fans, the car stays quieter. The system also helps conserve electricity. Electric cars rely on more electricity to power ordinary heating, because the car doesn’t have an internal combustion engine to provide waste heat. Each watt of power that can be saved in heating stays in the electric engine to help the car drive longer distances.

The system has the advantage of working quickly. On a winter day, someone can step inside the car and be warm in less than a minute. Because the heating is based on the locations of each passenger, it’s possible to save energy by only targeting specific seats — such as only heating the driver’s seat on a solo drive. Individual passengers could also adjust their own heat for personal comfort.

The company says radiant heat is also more comfortable than typical car heating. “Much like the heat from an open fireplace, the thermal radiation generated by infrared heating surfaces provides an extremely pleasant, cozy type of warmth,” BMW writes. The infrared heating surfaces could be placed in door panels, footwells, and on the dashboard. The automaker says it may work best as a supplement to a conventional heating system.

BMW is also experimenting with heat pump technology, which works by pulling heat out of ambient air. This type of technology can help reduce the need for electric heating, perhaps by as much as 50 percent.

Main image credit: BMW Designworks