Google invests in a startup that could make electric cars more efficient

A Southern-California start-up's power-conversion technology could eventually result in electric cars having a much longer range with significantly smaller batteries.
Written by Ami Cholia, Contributing Editor
Nissan LEAF charging

For electric cars to truly be competitive, their batteries are going to have to get smaller, cheaper and more efficient. And when there's a tech need, you know Google is, somehow, going to find a way to get involved.

Yesterday, Google invested in a Southern California start-up called Transphorm that would make power conversions more energy-efficient. In fact,  Transphorm's technology could cut down 90 percent of the power lost when energy is being converted from alternating current to direct current and back.

The practice could be used for solar panels, data centers, laptops, cell phones, hybrid and electric cars and much more.

According to the startup, the U.S. power grid currently wastes the equivalent of the output of 318 coal-fired power plants, which costs the country about $40 billion annually, AFP reported.

Google's $20 million investment brings the start-up's funding to $38 million. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Foundation Capital and Lux Capital have also invested in the company.

The key part of this technology is the use of the semiconductor material gallium nitride (it's the same material used in LED lighting), instead of silicon. Transphorm CEO Umesh Mishra said at the event, reported Reuters: “The current solution, which is based on silicon, is a solution which has reached its limit in high voltage power conversion. We can’t eke out any more efficiency out of this technology. The time is now to do something different and to impact the 10 percent of wasted energy that occurs in power conversion.”

While the technology won't currently be manufactured for electric cars, the eventual result could give EVs a much longer range with significantly smaller batteries.

“We are going to start working on it soon. But I believe it will take three years to five years before it becomes something the automotive sector will have the stomach for,” CEO Umesh Mishra in an interview with VentureBeat. “But it’s a hugely attractive thing. … People in that sector completely understand the value proposition. We just have to work with them to get there.”

Range anxiety is one of the biggest hurdles facing the electric car industry. Even if it takes a few years, this technology could single-handedly help curb several of those fears. We're excited to see where this heads.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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