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GaN company Transphorm closes $70M investment round

Transphorm Inc, an early stage power conversion semiconductor company, announced a $70-million investment round led by global investment firm KKR. KKR’s investment follows initial rounds of funding led by funds affiliated with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Foundation Capital, Google Ventures, Soros Quantum Strategic Partners, INCJ, Fujitsu, Transphorm will use this funding to support its growth, product innovation and expansion.

Transphorm believes that there is a very large market for its products as its ultra-efficient power devices and modules can eliminate more than 40% of all electric conversion losses by using Gallium Nitride (GaN), a new semiconductor material that switches at far higher speeds than traditional components.

GaN-based technology, known for its connection to the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, creates a brighter, more energy efficient light that today is the basis of the multi-billion dollar LED-based lighting industry. Similarly, when applied to power conversion, GaN components enable significantly more efficient, compact, and cost-effective products.

Gallium Nitride is the most important new semiconductor in the world today. My invention of the GaN-based LED and Solid State Lighting has changed the world in illumination. Gallium Nitride is also the best material for power conversion and is essential to eliminate the enormous amount of energy wasted in these processes. Transphorm is the leading company producing GaN-based power conversion products that will have the same positive impact on energy we saw with LED-based lighting.

—Dr. Shuji Nakamura, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physics and Director of the Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center (SSLEEC) at UC Santa Barbara

Transphorm’s products have a power efficiency of up to 98% in data centers and telecom applications, resulting in energy savings of more than 10GWh annually in a typical datacenter, or the equivalent of the annual electricity usage of 1,000 typical US homes. In addition to PV inverters and datacenters, other applications for Transphorm’s technology include power supplies, motor drives and automotive systems.

Manufacturers are now producing the world’s smallest PV inverters by leveraging Transphorm’s technology in their products. Transphorm has established strategic partnerships with industry-leading customers and suppliers.

Yaskawa Electric Corporation, a global leader in motion control, robotics and systems engineering, launched the first GaN-based commercially produced solar photovoltaic (PV) inverter, powered by Transphorm GaN, in the Japan market earlier this year. Transphorm's products enable approximately 50% smaller PV inverters in residential and small commercial installations up to 5kW, resulting in lower system, installation, and service costs while at the same time delivering more energy per solar panel to the grid.

Tata Power Solar, India’s leading power conversion player, has also teamed with Transphorm to develop leading edge PV inverters. In order to provide customers with high quality volume production, Transphorm partnered with Fujitsu Semiconductor, to produce its products in Fujitsu’s automotive-class wafer fabrication facility in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan.


Henry Gibson

It is very nice to hear about high efficiency power conversion materials. Glass like metals are already being used in low frequency power transformers for power savings in electrical distribution systems. Phone and electronic tablets or laptops already have efficient switched regulators for high efficiency charging.

What can now save much power is first converting a large amount of power distribution in buildings into direct current distribution. Most lights can now work on direct current because of the more efficient electronic converter ballasts and many CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps). Many high power motors also have electronic drives that can work equally well on direct current.

One of the newest most efficient motors, called the synchronous reluctance motor requires a drive that can be modified with almost no engineering effort to operate on direct current because like most drives its first stage is a rectifier.

Computer power supplies almost always have first stage rectifiers and on direct current they will need no power factor correction circuitry.

Direct current in metallic conduit has lower induction losses and like buried cable has lower capacitance losses.

Buildings can now have full direct current distribution and where standard alternating current is needed it can be made on the spot with better characteristics much like the inverter generators from HONDA and others because of the high efficiency of semiconductors like these.

Coupled with the direct current transmission system are banks of Durathon batteries from GE or ZEBRA batteries from FZSONICK or even NGK Sodium-Sulphur units for reliability. These all have minimal or no maintenance and can be distributed and certainly protect against brief outages.

The large NGK sodium-sulphur electrical storage system would have better served the world and Japan if it had been installed inside the Fukushima power station instead of at a windfarm, mostly because of the false fears promoted by many governments and people. Fewer than 100 known deaths have been caused by radiation of reactor failures and none in the general public. The natural background radiation would be causing many more deaths than the far lower radiation levels permitted at nuclear facilities, and they are not to be found even in areas with high natural radiation levels.

The batteries are a part of what should be the required co-generation system of any large building that has access to natural gas and even some that do not. One California company makes gas micro turbines in 30, 65 and 200 kW sizes. They are easy to use in parallel on a alternating current distribution system, but they are even easier to use in parallel to charge direct current batteries and power a direct current distribution system. The high frequency electricity from appropriate windings is wired to the battery terminals through simple fuses and then standard rectifiers and then direct current fuses. The battery leads can also connect to cheap semiconductors to bring the turbine up to speed. This would eliminate the cost and inefficiencies of the now built in inverters. The turbines have magnets and turbine blades on a single shaft, thus only one major moving part. Hydrodynamic air bearings can work without wear at the ninety-thousand revolutions per minute speed.

Switched reluctance rotors would be cheaper to build and would allow higher speeds and more power per unit and the higher speed would not damage the bearings.

The waste heat from the turbine can be used to both heat and cool buildings with either new or ancient processes. If there is too much electricity it can be sold to the grid or used to power Turbocor compressor for more cooling. Cooling can be stored as ice. Heat can be stored in molten salts as in some solar systems or as hot or very hot water or in the soil. The wasting of heat is required by physics when fuel is burned to generate electricity, and since natural gas is being required de facto if not de jure for new electric generation, all new generation should be co-generation so that much or most of this wasted heat is used. Fuel cells are being promoted but the cost of fuel conversion for them and their initial high cost and the increasing efficiency of combined cycles and co-generation makes fuel cells not economic. Stationary turbines should have a bottoming cycle similar to geo-thermal units and then even the waste heat can be used for hot water if it is not used for cooling.

The Japanese have invented and sold many ECOCUTE units that multiply electric energy into many times the direct heat energy of electricity for hot water heating. In plain English they are efficient heat pumps. Heat pumps can be used with great value for building and hot water heating. Burning gas in a turbine and using the produced electricity to run one or more heat pumps may provide heat or hot water to a building at more than 200 percent efficiency compared to just burning with only 100 percent.

Japan also has the ECOWILL from Honda to burn natural gas in the home and produce electricity and heat. The latest versions in Japan have a pull cord to start, of course, in addition to the prior version of pure electric starting. It did not sell well in the USA because it would only be sold with an additional full gas heating system. ECOWILL had a very good inverter to connect to the power system at any engine speed. Every building large or small ought to have one where natural gas is available for heat and continuous electricity.

Direct current buried power lines should also be built for moderately high voltage transmission to and within towns and cities but also in the country side with the availability of efficient conversion semiconductors.

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