A Southern-California start-up's power-conversion technology could eventually result in electric cars having a much longer range with significantly smaller batteries.
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.
Ami Cholia has written for AltTransport, Inhabitat, The Huffington Post and Sunday Mid Day in India. She holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New York.
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She writes for SmartPlanet and is not an employee of CBS.
For all battery or capacitor "driven" devices, charging time, usage time (mileage in cars and trucks), expense, number of life cycles and effiency (storage capicity) as more life cycles are used are the key questions.
I think for an electric car to be truely viable it needs lighter and cheaper batteries, or a capacitor (why always batteries instead of capicitors?); a minimum of 250 miles per charge; MUCH faster charging times; long life cycles with much less power storage deteriation as more life cycles are used.
And I want to buy such an electric car yesterday. :-)
We drfinitely need a breakthrough in storage (battery) technology. For now the concept the Chevy Volt uses (a small gas engine to repower the battery) is to me the best option today. At one point swappable batteries will probably be the best option as the infrasatructure (stations) is already there..all they need is a place to store them and a single charger to keep them charged. We already have charging stations in a local mall (and I do not live in a big city) so someone believes in the technology. What I really would like to see is a breakthrough in bio fuel that would be able to be used in older cars.
People need cars that are good and efficient for local driving, and also. long range driving. Today's electric cars fall short on achieving long range driving, and still need a gas engine to get them the distance.
Wouldn't it be cheaper to eliminate the gas engine from inside the auto? And simply hitch a trailer to the rear of the car for long range driving. Of course, that trailer would have to hold a gas powered electric generator that's large enough to keep the auto's batteries charged up. I have to assume that the gas engine (or diesel engine) would me much smaller than an auto engine, and much more economical to use.
Of course, in the city and short local driving. one could drop the trailer, and get a much greater operating range, since the weigh of an auto engine has been eliminated. Do you agree?
Until we have electric power storage capable of taking in energy some hundreds of times faster than it has to deliver it, the solution has to be replacing discharged batteries with charged ones.
This means an industry standard battery design, and a commercial model that involves leasing or renting the battery to the motorist.
Otherwise for the foreseeable future, the daily (or nightly) charge will define the daily endurance.
The range issue for purely electric cars is a by-product of recharge times measured in hours vs refuel times in minutes for ordinary cars. Incremental improvements in range are good but don't solve that. Pure electric cars will be 2nd cars for the forseeable future unless rentals become readily available at low rates for long trips .