The Sap Flow Status Quo

By: Brett Stoddard

Before I got started designing the SMT sap flow, I built and tested the probe sap flow sensor popularized by Grainer. This design popular with researchers probably because of its inexpensive BOM ( ~$10/sensor ) and promisingly low labor ( 1 hour/sensor ) which puts the total price at ( ~$60/sensor ).

When I replicated several of these probes I found significant difficulty in making them. The 36 gauge wires are especially difficult to work with and the nichrome wire heater probe was almost impossible to wind to a high enough resistance. For the 7 I built, only 2 were usable enough to record meaningful data. This is not a process I would recommend to anyone.

Here is the BOM used by Camden Lowrance in his University of Georga thesis in 2014 and the simplified one I created for this project. Camden’s includes a base station and mine does not.

The biggest difference is that I used a thermocouple amplifier chip instead of building my own. This greatly simplified the design and made fabrication a lot easier. I chose an Adafruit Universal Thermocouple Amplifier MAX31856 Breakout board. I made sure to set it to the Type-T setting. Adafruit has an excellent guide on how to use one of these on their website here.

Posted by Brett Stoddard