Transphorm Unveils Efficient Power Module, $38M From Kleiner, Google

Wed Feb 23, 2011 2:00pm EST

Here comes the biggest cleantech startup launch since Bloom Energy: Acompany called Transphorm has emerged from stealth on Wednesday afternoon at Google’s headquarters, touting an energy-efficient power conversion module for power-hungry devices from servers to electric car batteries to solar panels, and an enviable $38 million in venture capital from Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Foundation Capital, and Lux Capital.

Founded in 2007, Transphorm is looking to make power conversion more energy-efficient and reduce the wasted energy out of systems. The grid is rather inefficient, particularly as electricity powers up devices. Transphorm says its power conversion modules can eliminate up to 90 percent of all electric conversion losses, and to do so, the company is betting on the semiconductor material gallium nitride (as opposed to silicon), which is the same material used in LED lighting. Transphorm CEO Umesh Mishra said at the event:

“The current solution, which is based on silicon, is a solution which has reached its limit in high voltage power conversion. We can’t eke out any more efficiency out of this technology. The time is now to do something different and to impact the 10 percent of wasted energy that occurs in power conversion.”

Transphorm hasn’t invented gallium nitride; other companies have been tinkering with the material for years. But Mishra says most companies that use gallium nitride are working on low voltage conversion, while Transphorm is cracking high voltage conversion.

At the event, Kleiner Perkins’ Randy Komisar said one thing that attracted Kleiner to Transphorm was the size of the problem: It’s an impact that could take the equivalent of the entire West Coast off the grid, said Komisar. Transphorm CEO Mishra is a professor of electric and computer engineering at UC Santa Barbara and has submitted patents for gallium nitride based devices.

Komisar said Transphorm can make devices that are small and that its customers can turn into converters, power supplies, PV, motor drives, and hybrid cars. “Our biggest competitors are companies that make power conversion devices using silicon,” said Mishra.

In terms of how much more the technology will cost compared to the standard on the market today, Mishra said only, “No new technology is cheap.” Komisar said he expected the tech to be as cheap as the silicon version as the company reaches higher volumes. Mishra also said the company wasn’t looking to build chip fabs at this time, but could do so one day in the future. Transphorm says it will announce its first products next month.

Transphorm is also working on a project for the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, and raised a grant from ARPA-E, which describes the company’s project as “compact motor drives and grid-tied inverters operating at high power (3-10 kW) with efficiency greater than 96 percent.” For that project, Transphorm will build gallium nitride-based power switches for inverters and converters operating at high frequency. Transphorm’s $38 million in funding was raised over three rounds.

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