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Transphorm Launches First Product: Power Diode

Updated: Transphorm, the startup that emerged from stealth last month with plans for building energy-efficient power conversion modules and with $38 million in backing from investors including Kleiner Perkins and Google Ventures (s goog), has unveiled its first product: power diodes made of gallium nitride that can be embedded in power converters. The four-year-old company is at the Applied Power Electronics Conferenced (APEC) in Forth Worth, Texas, showing off the product in a power converter (DC to DC conversion) that can run at 99 percent efficiency.

Power diodes are a necessary component of all electronics, and are made of a semiconductor material — in most cases silicon — that conduct electrons in one direction. Transphorm’s power diodes are made up of the semiconductor gallium nitride, which the company says can eliminate up to 90 percent of all electric conversion losses.

Update: In a call Monday morning, Mishra explained to me that a power conversion module is made up by a diode and a transistor. In a couple of weeks Transphorm will start selling the transistor separately, and eventually will also sell the entire module (which includes both its diode and transistor).

Transphorm CEO Umesh Mishra said during the company launch last month that silicon power conversion “has reached its limit in high voltage power conversion,” and, “The time is now to do something different and to impact the 10 percent of wasted energy that occurs in power conversion.”

Transphorm didn’t invent gallium nitride as a semiconductor; other companies have been tinkering with the material for years. But at the launch event, Mishra said most companies that use gallium nitride are working on low-voltage conversion, while Transphorm is cracking high-voltage conversion.

Transphorm intends to make small devices its customers can turn into converters, power supplies, PV, motor drives, and hybrid car components. “Our biggest competitors are companies that make power conversion devices using silicon,” said Mishra.

In particular, Transphorm’s power diodes could be a good fit for power supply equipment makers that sell their wares to data centers, and the company intends to target this customer. Data centers are notorious energy hogs, and a 2010 Pike Research report estimated that investments into energy-efficiency software and hardware for “greening” data centers will grow annually to reach $41.4 billion by 2015.

In terms of how much more the technology will cost compared to the standard on the market today, Mishra said last month that, “No new technology is cheap.”

Transphorm is also working on a project for the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, which hosted its second annual summit last week. ARPA-E described the company’s project as “compact motor drives and grid-tied inverters operating at high power (3-10 kW) with efficiency greater than 96 percent.” For that project, Transphorm will build gallium nitride-based power switches for inverters and converters operating at high frequency.

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