Will Transphorm have the Gallium Nitride to Dump Silicon?

There is something both seductive and yet hard to believe in the announcement by Transphorm, a Southern California start-up founded in 2007, that it had raised $20 million in initial funding from the mothership of all Silicon Valley venture Capitalists, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, with help from Foundation Capital, Lux Capital and a $2.95 million grant from ARPA-E, the federal government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds R&D in advanced energy technology.

“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,” claims its web site.

As if you needed any more ‘bling’ to such an announcement, Transphorm held it’s coming out party at Google’s Mountain View headquarters which also has skin in this game.

Transphorm “is not just a better, faster cheaper enterprise. It is a brave new world enterprise.”—Randy Komisar, Kleiner Perkins partner.

How’s that for showbiz, but can Transphorm deliver?

Transphorm told the gathered crowd that its new technology would save 10 percent of total power consumption the equivalent of the output of 300 coal-fired power plants or about the same as the West Coast’s electrical consumption according to Mercury News press reports.

These energy savings are possible because Transphorm technology allows 90 percent efficiency improvement in AC/DC conversion of electricity—which is what transformers do everywhere in the power grid.  The result, they say, will be lighter and further—range hybrid and PHEVs, laptops without that heavy converter “brick” on the power cord to lug around, or much more efficient solar PV panels.

So how do they do this?

Transphorm says the not-so-secret ingredient is to substitute gallium nitride for the silicon used in most high tech products because of its vastly superior power conversion properties.  Power losses through transmission or conversion consume a significant share of power production and produce heat which is a problem in data centers and across the grid.  That is why players like Google were happy to host this event and hope that Transphorm can actually deliver on its promises of “cool” cooling technology for their data center futures.

Is this being over-hyped?

Steve Greenberg from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said what everyone in the room was thinking: “I’m always skeptical of announcements that are touting the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s like, let’s see the numbers. There is theoretically room for improvement and hopefully this will help us get there, but can I say that it will? No.”

May the Force be with them!