Mega Powerful Nitrate and Phosphate Remover - DIY!

Update Of The Day:

Waste is Food: Reef tank owners sometime get into the frame of mind of "food is food, and waste is waste". Thus they put food into the tank, and they remove waste from the tank (skimming, siphoning, waterchanges.) But actually, both food and waste are Organic, and thus are both "food" (food for something, somewhere). Corals and inverts may not directly eat the big krill that you feed your fish, but they do eat the waste from those fish. Further info:
When I first set up my tank we did consider an algae scrubber, and ended up not having space and not enough detailed documentation (I even posted about it here). But with all your detailed pics, I might actually give it a try with a 10 gallon reef that I'm going to start up. It will definitely benefit the corals in that it more or less gets rid of nitrates. I would probably still do water changes anyway, but at least I won't have too much worry about nitrate spikes.

In my 45, we merely lay down some plastic mesh along one of my baffles, but not as effective as this setup. Where did you get that screen material, and what is it called? We looked all over Home Depot back when we were going to set one up, but the closest I found was a plastic mesh in the craft stores.
I'm thinking of giving this a try now. My plumping under the cabinet would accomodate this really well. Should it dump in the fuge section or the intake section?

My sump is set up like this: intake-triple baffle-return area-fuge area

The intake has my skimmer (which dumps water half back in the intake area, and half into the fuge).
Chemically, it really does not matter too much. N and P are pretty much the same throughout the system. If you are trying to maximize pods, however, have the scrubber dump into the fuge. This way the pods that fall off of the scrubber won't get skimmed out before they can get to the tank.
Successes of the Day:

todj2002 on the SWF site: "since installing scrubber, N and P are still both at zero. i cleaned it again today. not any big deal, but huge progress for me. finally beat the algae after two years of trying. using scrubber with chaeto and RO water now. finally getting somewhere."

Marine_Nick on the RP site: "Thought I'd update on my screen. When setting it up I was concerned about light pollution from the sump into the room, and noise from the falling water. as my tank is on an outside wall, I wanted to put the screen outside if possible. I already had an old 18 x 12 x 12 tank, so had it drilled and put a small wier in it, the water is pumped from the sump up and out through the wall to the screen, runs down the screen, through the weir, back through the wall and back into the sump. All of this is in a small shed I made which contains all the lighting etc, my screen is 18 inches tall by 12 inches wide and has a light on either side. Screen has been running now for 4 weeks, and my nitrates have dropped from 30 to 7 and phosphate from 0.25 to 0. In the last 4 weeks, nothing else has changed in my tank other than more fish being introduced, and therefore more food being added, and still the parameters have dropped!! Overall I'm really happy with results so far and hope to see the nitrates drop to zero in the next week or two. Big thanks to Santa Monica for this thread and all the info!"

jtrembley on the MD site: "I got frustrated with the skimmer (EuroReef, rated for 80) on my 40 gallon a while back. It was pulling out *lots* of crud, but I was having trouble with detritus building up, and rising P values. Since yanking the skimmer and DIYing (poorly) a rev. 2 scrubber [acrylic box style], phosphates and nuisance algae are down, and the backlog of detritus is slowly being consumed. I'm seeing lots more worms (particularly the small ones that build white, spiraling tubes) and 'pods (amphi- and cope- that is, but not octo-). Here's the funny thing: at the 3 year stage of my 40, I started getting lots of nuisance algae, despite having one of the hands-down best skimmers for small tanks, an MCE600, on it. Thinking that I was doing something wrong, I put an MC-80 on it. After another year, I started getting more and more detritus building up in the display, despite having a *lot* (over 2k GPH) of flow. And then I noticed something else: I no longer had many fan and bristle worms, amphipods, or copepods left in the sytem, either. So...I started swapping out my old LR for new, to replenish the critters. And I tried Fauna Marin and vodka dosing. But the critters weren't really spreading, and the nuisance algae was getting worse, and my P was rising despite water changes. So, I thought about it, poked around, and looked at Eric Borneman's study of *fresh* skimmate (i.e., not stuff that was left in the cup to rot). And I realized something: having a high quality skimmer on the tank was probably stripping the tank of big chunks of its potential cleanup crew. So I took off the skimmer, and put in a turf screen to cover the water's surface in what used to be the skimmer's chamber in my sump. Low and behold: I'm feeding more; I'm once again seeing fresh worm tracks in my sand bed; the copepods are back; the nuisance algae is dying off; P is undetectable by hobby kits; and the detritus is slowly clearing up. And I'm not doing as many water changes. I checked pH this morning, it was 8.2, before the lights are on. I'm honestly not seeing the down side. So yeah, removing the skimmer and putting in a $5 turf scrubber fixed my tank of "old tank syndrome". Just for giggles, I just tested my N (0.2 or 0.5 Salifert) and P (0.05 Hanna photometer). No visible HA, turfs, or cyano in the display, and I can (easily) feed 2X cubes of Hikari mysis, some dulse, and 2 scoops' worth of Reef Chili daily (again, in a 40). And I haven't done a water change in a month. I'm honestly not seeing a downside to scrubbers at this point."
Update: The Trick of Dark Brown Algae

This has now happened to many people who have new scrubbers. They get early growth, but it's not the green stuff that they see in most pics. Instead it's a dark brown super-thick "coating", or a black "tar", that looks like it was poured on:




What you have here is the type of algae that grows when nutrients are extremely high (!). After a few cleanings, when the nutirents come down, the color will lighten up to some balance point where it will stay. The big problem, however, is that people think the screen is not growing, so they leave it in to "grow more" (by not cleaning it). BIG MISTAKE! This type of algae does not grow thick, at all. It never gets more than 1/4" (6mm) or so. And worse, since it's SO DARK, it block all light from reaching the bottom layers, thus causing those layers to die and release nitrate and phosphate back into the water. So the solution is to clean ANY and ALL dark brown/black algae right away, and don't even wait until the end of the week. Basically, if you cannot see your screen, then light is not reaching it and it needs to be cleaned. You'll only have to do this a few times before the nutrients come down and the algae color lightens up. Don't fall for the Dark Brown Algae Trick.
can I ask why you are so invested in this process but seem to not get anything out of it other that helping people? Doesn't seem normal for typical human beings.
Lucky, doom :) I'm still trying to devise the design in my head to incorporate into my 10 gallon reef that I'm just now starting up.

I've got a spare penguin powerhead that I want to try to use, once I get a reverse flow kit for it. I think it will be strong enough for the size scrubber/fuge I'm going to use.

And I think it's awesome that you're doing this, santamonica. I checked out your site, and it was very informative and detailed!
I get fun. I guess I'm not normal :)

One of these on each side of the screen is proven to work:

I'd rather not buy a light online. What is the key to this design regarding the lights? I saw you used a T-5 above for a horizontal design. I already have a few light fixtures, I am just wondering which one to use. So again, what is important about this light? Lumens, wattage, color temp, etc...?
Just get a "plant-grow" bulb between 2000K and 6500K. I get good results at 3000K. But more important is power, and being within 4" of the screen. Here's my info on bulbs; just find one in your local garden or home store:

Algae require different light than your eyes do. Algae likes a "redder" light. So get a "plant grow" light, also called just a "grow light". Anything from 2000K to 6500K. The cheapest, lightest, proven light would be a CFL floodlight like this:

It just needs a clip-on socket. It's thin glass is lightweight, so the clip-on won't start slipping down. And it does not require a metal reflector, which is heavy and cumbersome. For a screen 12" X 12", you'd want one bulb per side. For a bigger screen, use two per side.

Next up in power (and cost, weight, and electricity) are the high power CFL's that are specific plant-grow lights, like these:

And for big screens like 24" X 24", and heavy-nutrient tanks, a mega-power CFL grow-light like this on each side of the screen will work: