Transphorm's gallium nitride semiconductors could be used to make operating photovoltaic panels, like these on the roof of the Research Support Facility, motor drives and transistors more energy efficient. | Photo courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

When electricity travels from your home’s power outlet through a cord and into a device, part of the charge is lost along the way.

To say it’s lost means the conductive materials in the device resist the flow of electricity, so even though the computer, air conditioner or toaster still turns on, not all the power that left the outlet makes the journey to its destination. The place it still shows up is on residential and commercial energy bills nationwide to the tune of $40 billion annually, or 10 percent of energy consumed in the United States.

Transphorm, a startup developing technology partially funded by ARPA-E, focuses on improving the ease at which electricity moves through transistors, an electrical component that controls the electrical energy that flows around an electrical circuit. Most transistors are made of silicon, which lose more energy at high speeds and voltage levels, but are also cost effective. Transphorm’s transistors are developed from a new material, which decreases the electricity lost by 90 percent.

Gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors could be used to make cost-effective, high-performance power converters for electric motor drives and components of solar panels and electric vehicles. As electricity moves through this material, there’s less ‘drag,’ so even though the material is more expensive to produce than silicon, the costs are recouped in saved energy costs.

Such materials, when used in electric motors for machinery or other devices with electric motors, reduce American demand for energy and, in part, ensure our national energy security.

The project is one of 14 that comprise ARPA-E’s Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT) program. Transphorm was initially awarded $2.95 million from ARPA-E’s first round of funding in 2010. Since then, the organization has raised $63 million in capital to continue moving electric components to a sustainable and energy efficient energy distribution.  

To learn more about Transphorm technology and other innovative companies that are changing the way we produce and use energy, join us at the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit  held February 27-29 at Washington DC’s National Harbor.