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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

A stealth startup company whose power-conversion tech could save billions through reductions in energy loss, has gone public, revealing why companies such as Google and Kleiner Perkins have invested heavily in its ambitious plans.

Transphorm reduces the amount of power lost when energy is converted from one form to another. The company has attracted a sizeable amount of investment – $38m so far – from Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, Foundation Capital and Lux Capital. Such heavy investment is probably unsurprising amid claims this technology can reduce billion-dollar energy losses.

Transphorm says conversion loss accounts for 10 per cent of all energy in the US, equating to $40bn. Its tech can apparently reduce this loss by 90 per cent, a bold claim perhaps, but if true, could signify not only huge savings in finance, but a mammoth reduction in CO2 emission.

As it stands, Transphorm currently embeds its conversion devices in circuits designed for solar panels, industrial motors and data centres. Yet this is a technology that appears ripe for other applications, including one of the biggest environmental concerns, car engines.

As hybrid and electric cars also convert electricity from AC to DC, Transphorm's tech has the potential to give EVs a longer range as well as smaller battery sizes.

“We are going to start working on it soon. But I believe it will take three years to five years before it becomes something the automotive sector will have the stomach for," says CEO Umesh Mishra in an interview with VentureBeat.

Gallium nitride - a material commonly found in LED lighting - is the key ingredient in Transphorm's methods, as it's an extremely low-resistance material that simultaneously holds off large voltage. Silicon, the traditional material for power-conversion, has "reached its fundamental limits", says Mishra - limits that Transphorm has now apparently surpassed by using Gallium nitride.

The initial investments in Transphorm will go toward supporting customers orders. Mishra says the company looks to expand facilities next year, by which time it aims to raise further funding.

While Google data centres may well become cheaper to run, it seems like the drive towards cheaper motoring is still some way up the road. ®

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