Researchers at MIT have developed a new power converter design that is able to handle higher voltages while maintaining efficiency.

Power conversion, as you may know, is intrinsically inefficient. A device will never be able to output as much power as it takes in. This is especially true of conventional, silicon-based power converters although recently, steps have been taken to improve efficiency.

Specifically, power converters made from gallium nitride are now reaching the market that afford higher efficiencies and smaller footprints. The problem, however, is that gallium nitride devices can’t handle voltages above around 600 volts. The limitation has restricted their use to household electronics but that could soon be changing.

At the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ International Electron Devices Meeting this week in San Francisco, MIT – in partnership with semiconductor company IQE, IBM, Columbia University and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology – presented a new design that boosts gallium nitride power handling up to 1,200 volts.

Researchers note that the advancement is little more than a first prototype developed in an academic lab. By that, they mean there’s plenty of room for improvement. In fact, it’s possible that capacity could be bumped up to the 3,300 volt to 5,000 volt range which could make the efficiencies of gallium nitride viable for use in the electrical grid.

No word yet on when the advancement will graduate from the lab to the real world.