Transphorm, a Google-backed startup based in California, has created a set of chips that could significantly cut power consumption and waste in computers, electric cars, and many appliances.
This is a big deal because, as the company site says, “More than 10% of all electricity is ultimately lost due to conversion inefficiencies. The scale of this loss exceeds the world’s entire supply of renewable generation by an order of magnitude”.
Transphorm has created a semiconductor platform for making power converters out of gallium nitride. This is the same material that is used in LEDs. Currently, the converters are made from silicon and are 85 to 90 percent efficient. This means that 85 to 90 percent of the AC power that goes into them comes out as DC power, the rest is waste heat. Nearly every appliance, including servers, solar panels, electric motors runs on DC power.
Transphorm claims it can boost that efficiency up to the upper 90 percent range. The CEO of the company, Umesh Mishra, has said that they are using gallium nitride to move away from the path set by silicon, as silicon has reached its limit as a power converter.
It may not seem like a huge efficiency improvement, but if applied universally, it would save hundreds of terawatt-hours of electricity a year. The whole Western United States consumes about 240 terawatt hours a year. Getting the company’s technology to be installed universally would be some feat though.
Like most new technology, the new converters will come at a premium cost to begin with but could eventually cost less than traditional components, Mishra has said.
Besides Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Lux Capital and Foundation Capital have all invested in the company.
Image credit: NASA/GSFC