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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 6:40 am | Fair 47º


Transphorm of Goleta Charged with Transforming the Way We Power Electronics

Local startup has tapped into a newly discovered material that can significantly boost the efficiency of power converters

Many startups say they have the power to change the world, but Transphorm can say so and mean it — literally.

It began as a dream between a UCSB professor and a student. Nineteen years later, Umesh Mishra and Primit Parikh are using a relatively unexploited source to revolutionize power conversion.

Transphorm, based in Goleta, is developing more efficient power converters that could substantially curb power consumption in computers, electric cars, motors and other appliances.

“The amount of savings added up is more than all the electricity consumed by the West Coast (in a year),” said Mishra, CEO and co-founder. “That’s the scale of the impact.”

When someone plugs in a laptop charger to the wall, it has to convert that energy to charge the laptop. The heat felt in the converter’s brick is lost energy, Parikh said.

Right now, converters are made out of silicon and are about 90 percent efficient while the rest gets converted into waste heat. Transphorm can improve that number to the upper 90s using gallium nitride (GaN). GaN has been used to power white-light LEDs but has never been used in large-scale conversion, where silicon has dominated for years.

“Gallium nitride is the core,” Parikh said. “It’s fundamentally a better material. Our team has figured out how to harness it and make it practical. Before the material existed in nature, but no one saw it.”

The company has a small factory at 115 Castilian Drive where more than 90 employees manufacture some of the product on site in “clean rooms.” Mishra has been working with GaN since he formed Nitreous in 1996, which was later sold to Cree Inc. He and Parikh founded Transphorm in 2007.

“Everyone understood this material should make efficient power conversion possible, but no one knew how to do it,” Mishra said.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, takes a tour on Tuesday of Transphorm's factory in Goleta with company executives Umesh Mishra, left, and Primit Parikh.
Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, takes a tour on Tuesday of Transphorm’s factory in Goleta with company executives Umesh Mishra, left, and Primit Parikh. (Valorie Smith / Noozhawk photo)

Now the question is, can they pull it off?

Transphorm has raised $63 million in private and public investment, including funding from Google Ventures, which is a logical fit.

Google’s biggest cost is electricity, because every time someone searches through Google, a computer is receiving information and sending it back, Mishra said. Google is a registered utility because it consumes so much energy that when its need drops a little, it has so much extra that it can sell it.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, toured the facility Tuesday and emphasized the importance of the high-tech sector in terms of education and providing high-paying jobs.

“Here at Transphorm, you’re sparking a real revolution in energy efficiency,” she said.

But GaN is expensive to develop because it has to be grown on foreign substrates, Mishra said. Transphorm needs to raise more money to expand its market reach and plans an international launch of its converters within the year.

“This is just the beginning,” Mishra said. “We have many decades ahead of us. We have 30 to 40 years of development.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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