Last Tuesday, Congressmember Lois Capps toured and talked with employees of Transphorm, a rapidly growing tech company in Goleta focused on improving energy efficiency in power conversion technology. Capps lauded Transphorm for being a perfect example of a capital-cultivating, green job-creating corporation as she was shown the company’s expanding clean rooms, testing facilities, and offices.
So what does Transphorm actually do?
See that block on your computer charger cord? Well, apparently that thing wastes a notable amount of energy; roughly 10 percent of the energy that passes through it to be converted to direct current gets lost as heat. Currently, silicon is the most common material utilized in energy converters. But as silicon efficiency levels have appeared to hit a plateau, Transphorm began developing gallium nitride (GaN)-based converters, which have the potential to one day boast an efficiency profile above 90 percent.
“Everyone knew that this material would be great for energy conversion,” Transphorm’s CEO Umesh Mishra pointed out. It had so far gone unharnessed due to technical roadblocks, but Transphorm’s team seems to have found a way around these issues and is in the process created an impressively compact and efficient conversion unit.
Gallium nitride semiconductors have big implications for power supply providers. For instance, Google’s largest expense is energy cost, not labor, Mishra explained. The company is technically listed as a utility, he told Capps and assembled media reps. Basically, Google consumes so much energy that better converters could have big implications for the company.
But data servers are just the tip of the iceberg. Transphorm hopes to eventually insert GaN technology in markets for solar inverters, industrial motor drives, and electric motor inverters.
Transphorm started as a “dream of a professor and a student,” Capps pointed out. Mishra and one of his former PhD students from UCSB, Primit Parikh, are the cofounders of the company. “We’ve been together 19 years, longer than each of us have known our wives,” Primit chuckled.
They’ve apparently made quite the duo; four years after founding Transphorm, they’ve gone from nine employees in 2007 to over 90 in 2011. They plan on employing 130 people by 2012. Four-and-a-half million government dollars now complement the $63 million in funds that came from several noteworthy investors, including Quantum Strategic Partners, Google Ventures, Lux Capital, Foundation Capital, and Kleiner Perkens.
The firm is very vertically integrated, and in tech industries that doesn’t come cheap. The company has kept quiet on the project until the first quarter of 2011, and it plans to start selling components to companies by the end of this year. One day, Mishra said, converter technology will be able to get that clunky Adam’s apple of a converter off of your computer charger and (comfortably) into your computer.