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CLEO:2015 OSA 2015

Highly Sensitive Liquid Level Sensor using a Polymer

Optical Bragg Grating for Industrial Applications
Carlos A. F. Marques1,*, Gang-Ding Peng2, and David J. Webb1

Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies, Aston University, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK

School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia
E-mail address:

Abstract: A novel and highly sensitive liquid level sensor based on a polymer optical fiber Bragg
grating (POFBG) is reported for the first time. The sensitivity of the sensor is found to be 57
pm/cm of liquid, enhanced by more than a factor of 5 when compared to an equivalent sensor
based on silica fiber. OCIS codes: (060.2370); (280.3735); (120.0280).
1. Introduction
Liquid level monitoring is of great importance in many industrial applications, such as aircraft fuel systems, flood
warning, etc. Most traditional liquid level sensors are based on electromechanical techniques. However they suffer
from intrinsic safety concerns in explosive environments, such as fuel storage facilities. In recent years, to overcome
this problem, many optical fiber liquid level sensors have been investigated [1,2]. Amongst these, many types of
liquid level sensors based on fiber Bragg gratings have been demonstrated [3-7]. However, these sensors exhibit
some drawbacks, such as low sensitivity limited range, long-term instability, limited resolution, weakness, and
complicated manufacture. In this paper, a simple and highly sensitive liquid level sensor based on a POFBG
embedded in a silicone rubber (SR) diaphragm is investigated. The performance of this sensor was compared with a
similar sensor incorporating an FBG inscribed in silica fiber, with the POFBG device exhibiting a sensitivity
enhanced by more than a factor of 5. Compared with other devices in the literature, the proposed configurations
display much greater sensitivities (more than twice that of the best sensitivity published [8]), a highly linear
response, high resolution and good repeatability, all critical requirements for most several sensing applications.
2. Design of sensors and configurations
Several identical FBGs were inscribed in single-mode POF fabricated from poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA)
for details of the fabrication see [9]. After that, the SR solution was prepared by mixing homogeneously two liquids
(SILASTIC T-4 Base and Catalyst) in a ratio of 100:10 by volume. The prepared SR solution was poured in a
plastic mold, in which was also placed the POFBG, and kept undisturbed for 24 hours at room temperature to allow
the SR to set. With regard to uniformity, the obtained diaphragms had thickness between 1.04 mm and 1.10 mm.
65 cm

50 cm

Sensor 5




Sensor 4
80 cm


Hole for screw

35 cm

Sensor 3

Measured data for level increasing: 57.1 pm/cm

Measured data for level decreasing: 57.3 pm/cm


20 cm

15 mm

Sensor 2

'O~4.30 nm



Measured data for level increasing: 10.17 pm/cm

Measured data for level decreasing: 10.26 pm/cm


Table 1. Single POFBG sensor system:

repeatability analysis


Wavelength (nm)

Retaining ring

FBG in silica fiber



'O~0.77 nm

















5 cm

Sensor 1









Liquid level (cm)

Fig. 1. (a-b) Design of the sensor system using a single POFBG. (b) Diagram and photograph of the acrylic tube sensor arrangement using multiPOFBGs. Response of the wavelength shift versus liquid level using a single diaphragm with (c) a POFBG and (d) an FBG based on silica fiber.

The first sensor configuration, based on a single POFBG, is presented in Fig. 1(a). It is based on an aluminum
gasket, which houses the SR diaphragm with a POFBG embedded directly in it. The second sensor configuration,
shown in Figs. 1(b), represents a departure from the idea of determining liquid level by measuring the pressure at the
bottom of the liquid container and has several critical advantages. Sensors above the surface of the liquid will all
read the same ambient pressure. Sensors below the surface of the liquid will read pressures that increase linearly
with depth. The position of the liquid surface can therefore be approximately identified as lying between the first
sensor to read an above-ambient pressure and the preceding sensor. However, a much more accurate determination
of the liquid level can be made by implementing linear regression to the wavelength shifts experienced by the
sensors submerged at different depths. There are numerous advantages to this latter multi-sensor approach: first,

978-1-55752-968-8/15/$31.00 2015 Optical Society of America


CLEO:2015 OSA 2015

temperature induced wavelength shift in the individual sensors as well as temperature induced changes in the sensor
pressure sensitivity are automatically compensated; second, the operation of the system is not affected by changes in
the density of the liquid and finally, it provides the possibility to detect and compensate for malfunctioning sensors.
The experimental system used in this study is composed of five sensors positioned over 15 mm diameter holes
spatially separated by 150 mm with the first hole separated by 50 mm from tube base.
3. Experimental results and Discussion
Both configurations were installed in a liquid container of 80 cm height with an inner diameter of 94 mm. The
results of the configuration based on a single POFBG (Fig. 1(a)) are shown in Fig. 1(c), which displays the
wavelength shift when the liquid level is incremented in steps of 5 cm. The result demonstrates that the sensor gives
a highly linear response over the entire measurement region. The wavelength shift induced over the 75 cm
measurement region was around 4.3 nm, which corresponds to a sensitivity in the region of 57.20.4 pm/cm. Five
full cycles were performed to investigate the repeatability of the sensor. The results of this study were quite
satisfactory (see Table 1). The overall sensitivity was found to be 57.30.4 pm/cm. For comparison purposes, a
similar sensor was fabricated using an FBG inscribed in 9/125 m silica optical fiber. Fig. 1(d) shows the first cycle
demonstrating a sensitivity with a mean value of 10.220.09 pm/cm. These results indicate that the sensitivity using
POFBGs is increased by more than 5 times, compared to the FBG inscribed in silica fiber, though it should be noted
that the relative errors in the sensitivities are comparable at about 1%. Furthermore, the sensitivity is considerably
larger than that of the other previously published works mentioned in the introduction [1-8].
The possibility of using a multi-POFBG based sensor was also explored using the apparatus of Fig. 1. The aim of
this experiment was to study the behavior of three sensors submerged as shown in Fig. 2 (a) with the liquid depth
varying between 40 cm and 75 cm, giving a 35 cm measurement region. Figs. 2 (b-d) represent the responses from
sensors 1, 2 and 3, respectively. The sensitivity of each sensor in this multi-POFBG sensor configuration is slightly
different and at least two factors contributing to this variation can be identified: the first is related to the amount of
silicone sealant used, and second the slight strain applied to the POFBG/diaphragms, when is sealed to the
prototype, may not be the same for each multi-POFBG sensor. These are limitations of the manual assembly process
and could be significantly reduced in a proper manufacturing process. By combining information from the three
sensors, the depth of the liquid could be determined with a resolution of better than 1cm.


Measured data for level increasing: 54.5 pm/cm

Measured data for level decreasing: 54.8 pm/cm
sensor 1

35 cm

Sensor 3



35 cm of


Wavelength (nm)

Holes 4 and 5


Measured data for level increasing: 54 pm/cm

Measured data for level decreasing: 53.7 pm/cm


sensor 2


20 cm

Sensor 2



Measured data for level increasing: 54.9 pm/cm

Measured data for level decreasing: 55.1 pm/cm
Sensor 3


5 cm

Sensor 1









Liquid level (cm)

Fig. 2. Response of the wavelength shift vs. liquid level using multiple diaphragm/POFBG
sensors: (a) sensor 1, (b) sensor 2, (c) sensor 3 and (d) sensor 4. (e) Diagram of the acrylic
tube sensor. (f-h) Responses of the wavelength change vs. liquid level of each sensor

4. Conclusion
For the first time a highly sensitive
liquid level-monitoring sensor
based on a POFBG embedded in a
SR diaphragm is proposed and its
performance characterized. The
simple structural configuration not
requirements but also improves the
compactness of the device. The
experimental results show that the
proposed sensor has a high
sensitivity to liquid level, great
repeatability and exhibits a high
linear response. Finally, the new
configuration can be a useful tool in
many different applications, such as
biochemical and environmental

This work was supported by a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship included in the 7th Framework Program of the European Union
(POSSIBLE PIEF-GA-2013-628604 project).

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