Back from black: Study examines ways to restore wind-dominant power grids after a blackout

Happy Friday! Here in Chicago we’re experiencing record-breaking November temperatures, as many of you are throughout the Midwest, but it has also been a little breezy. That leads me to today’s top Midwest tech news: A study of wind-dominant power grids in Iowa.

Researchers at Iowa State University are looking at how wind-dominant grids recover after a blackout. Blackout recovery is an industry challenge because wind power plants aren’t designed for the same recovery process as other plants, such as gas plants. Wind energy is variable based on environmental conditions and plants therefore can’t simply be fired up to instantly meet energy demand. Without better solutions, this could prevent the development of more wind energy capacity.

  • The Iowa State researchers will use a three-year U.S. Department of Energy grant to seek technical solutions to the problem. Some ideas involve using regulators to control the amount of power that wind turbines harvest or that allow power converters to withstand surges.
  • The lead researcher plans to use artificial intelligence tools with new forecasting models to create real-time, computer-generated power restoration plans.
  • The study will also examine how utilities used (or didn’t use) wind power to restore power grids after the powerful derecho storm in August.
  • “The project is central to the state of Iowa because it is becoming wind dominant,” lead researcher Villegas Pico, an Iowa State assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, said in a news release. “Thus, it is reasonable to anticipate that wind power plants must provide black-start services in the area.”

Today’s headlines:

🌱 BIOFUEL: University of Minnesota researchers led a project team that studied how to make bacteria better metabolize food waste in anaerobic digesters, which produce biogas, heat, and fertilizer. A pilot project for the technology could help the Second Harvest Heartland food bank offset 70% of its energy costs and sell the fertilizer.

🌽 AGRICULTURE: Plants take in and process carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, so it would be intuitive to think that more CO2 would equate to more plant yield. But instead, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers discovered that some crops, such as corn, can’t take advantage of extra CO2. The scientists made the realization during a project to develop bioenergy crops that produce more biomass with less water.

🚗 EVs: General Motors is fast-tracking plans to bring new electric vehicles to market and is in the process of re-hiring employees at its new EV battery factory in Lordstown, Ohio, close to where it closed an assembly plant last year, reports the Detroit Free Press. The battery plant is expected to open in 2022.

💧 HYDROGEN: A Northwestern University research team produced high-purity hydrogen from ammonia through thermal-electrochemical decomposition. This could have implications for future vehicle fuel cells.


  • Chicago-area organizations Clean Energy TrustArgonne National Laboratory, and Fermilab are holding a webinar on Nov. 10 for startups to learn what national lab resources are available and how to engage with them.
  • The nonprofit Delta Institute is holding its ninth annual BOOST event starting Nov. 10. The platform highlights early-stage Midwest entrepreneurs with sustainable innovations, and a winner will be announced on Nov. 17.


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