Transphorm developing more efficient power converter

DFN – Google backed venture is developing a more efficient power converter.

Transphorm makes energy-efficient power converter
David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle February 24, 2011 04:00 AM Copyright San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Transphorm Inc., a startup backed by Google Ventures, unveiled on Wednesday a technology that could wrest more power from solar panels, make computers more energy efficient and increase the range of electric cars.

Transphorm has designed a new type of power converter that wastes far less energy than standard converters, which are found in devices as different as air conditioners and cell phone chargers. A laptop’s converter, for example, transforms the alternating current supplied by a wall socket into the direct current the computer needs.

The potential market is vast, as are the possible energy savings.

The amount of energy lost to inefficient power conversion across the nation’s electrical grid, according to Transphorm’s estimates, equals the output of 318 coal-fired power plants and costs the country $40 billion per year. The company claims its power modules can eliminate up to 90 percent of electricity conversion losses.

"The impact is huge – on the grid, on the planet," said Chief Executive Officer Umesh Mishra, speaking at an event Wednesday at Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

"Whenever you use electrical energy, you’re paying a hidden tax due to the inefficiencies of power conversion," he said.

Transphorm, whose headquarters are in the Santa Barbara County town of Goleta, bases its converters on gallium nitride rather than the standard silicon. The company plans to announce its first products at the Applied Power Electronics Conference and Exposition in Fort Worth, Texas, early next month.

Founded in 2007, Transphorm has raised $38 million from Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Lux Capital and Google Ventures, the venture capital arm of search giant Google.

"With a global network of data centers, we have a very deep understanding of conversion losses," said Bill Maris, managing partner at Google Ventures.

The company also is working on a $2.95 million project to develop energy-efficient, variable speed motors for the federal government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, better known as ARPA-E.

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