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California start-up Transphorm gets $20 million from Google Ventures to develop power conversion technology

February 23, 2011 | 11:17 am

Transphorm

Google Ventures has funneled $20 million into a start-up that claims to prevent most of the energy loss that occurs in solar panels, electric cars, computer servers and more.

Transphorm Inc., based in Goleta near Santa Barbara, makes an electric power conversion technology that probably doesn’t sound as sexy as the latest new wind turbine or algae biofuel breakthrough. But on Wednesday the company emerged from “stealth mode” with $38 million in capital from Google, Kleiner Perkins and more.

Transphorm says its modules can recoup 90% of the energy that is often lost when direct current or alternating current is turned into another form of power –- a process required by many technologies with electronic components.

Inefficient power conversion costs U.S. businesses $40 billion a year and wastes hundreds of terawatts of energy -– potentially more than all the power used on the West Coast, according to Transphorm.

Said another way, more than 10% of all electricity produced –- more than all the power created by renewable energy sources -- seeps out during the conversion process, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.

In March, Transphorm will unveil and demonstrate its products at the Applied Power Electronics Conference in Texas. The company’s modules are already being worked into customers’ products, some of which will roll out at the end of 2011, executives said.

The technology relies largely on gallium nitride –- used in highly efficient LED lighting -- which Transphorm says is better suited to power conversion than the currently preferred silicon.

The company was founded four years ago by Umesh Mishra, an electrical and computer engineering professor at UC Santa Barbara, along with Primit Parikh, who received an electrical engineering doctorate from the same school.

Google’s investment portfolio already includes companies involved in DNA analysis, anti-malware technology, English-language improvement, even auto manufacturing and car sharing.

But the investment team tends to look at clean-tech companies with “a healthy dose of skepticism” because of their pie-in-the-sky reputation and high capital demands, said managing partner Bill Maris.

At Transphorm, however, “it’s a real problem that they’re addressing and they have a real solution for it,” he said. “The ultimate impact of this technology is inarguable.”

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-- Tiffany Hsu

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