Light work makes for a better drop

New Australian technology will enable real-time monitoring of wine throughout its fermentation and maturation process, reducing spoilage and improving quality.

Smart Bungs use sensors based on optical fibres to continuously monitor the health of wine during the fermentation and maturation process. Credit: IPAS/Jennie Groom Photography

The “Smart Bung” technology has been pioneered at the University of Adelaide by the Institute for Photonics & Advanced Sensing (IPAS) and the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine (SAFW). The work is led by Prof Tanya Monro, Director of IPAS.

An optical fibre sensor incorporated into the bung of a wine cask can detect substances that might cause the wine to spoil. The optical fibres have tiny holes that take up minute samples of the wine. The sensor shines light through the fibres to determine the concentration of certain important chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide and sulphur dioxide—all without having to open the cask. The system will enable continuous, real-time cask-by-cask monitoring and an immediate response if problems are detected.

As Australia is the world’s fourth-largest wine exporter, Smart Bungs promise to improve the profitability of the industry greatly. Work began on the technology about two years ago, and it is now funded by a Linkage grant from the Australian Research Council.

“The Australian National Fabrication Facility’s (ANFF) Optofab node provided the special optical glass fibre and surface functionalisation required to make the sensors,” says Piers Lincoln, IPAS manager. “ANFF has been critical in ensuring facilities are available to produce the sensors.”

Smart Bungs will also help the environment by reducing transport requirements because samples can be measured on-site, dramatically decreasing the use of chemicals for analyses, increasing agricultural yield, and lowering wastage.

“It’ll take another five years and around $2 to $3 million in R&D funding before the technology gets to market—but when it does, we believe it will replace standard laboratory-based analyses,” Piers says.

The Institute for Photonics & Advanced Sensing (IPAS), University of Adelaide, Piers Lincoln, Tel: +61 410 221 278,,