Mega Powerful Nitrate and Phosphate Remover - DIY!

Success of the Day:

"Mxett" on the MD site: "I installed a simple [scrubber] over my refugium. It uses an old plastic fruit juice container and a syphon [which makes a surge device] to dump 2 litres onto a white plastic chopping board which lays horizontally over the top of the refugium. A reflective CFL [bulb] is situated just 10cm above this board. The surge occurs every 30 seconds, lasting for 15 seconds. Growth on the [scrubber] has been excellent. Harvesting the algae is performed every 1 to 2 weeks per SM's instructions. [should be weekly :)] N & P have never been detectable in my system, BUT I have always struggled with a very persistant nuisance red algae! It threatened to overtake my entire tank in the months before installing this [scrubber], which is only a modest size for my 800 litre cube. Anyway, after 3 months of using the [scrubber] I can confidently say I have little to none of this red algae left! My purple tange eats it and always has, but with less nutrients available to it, it has just withered away, and he just finishes it off. Overall a great success over a difficult pest. Thanks SM for providing the inspiration and idea to create, install and use such a cheap, easy and effective natural filter."
Today's Success of the Day, from OceanParks on the MFT site, had a good story to it. So here it is with his posts and the dates:

12/17: SantiMonica: I've also built and installed your screen. I am on day 5. I have the brown/green film and was wondering how long before you start to see a noticable drop in Nitrates? I have a 110 gal reef tank with fish and my Nitrates are at 20ppm. Thanks.

12/18: and what wattage bulb would you suggest (pc flood) would you recommend for better results?

1/5: Ok. So I read your thread and built a scrubber (a true hobbyist). I'm in the middle of week three and I've done 2 cleanings and one freshwater rinse. Nitrates began at 30ppm and are now down to 5ppm (with the help of a 40% water change) in this 110 gallon reef tank. I removed the skimmer and UV sterilizer to allow room for the scrubber. I will compose a more formal, descriptive posting in the near future on my setup - one that I hope you will use in your RESULTS postings. I am still trying to get a grip of this thread is my first one. Did you say that you were getting better results with a different light bulb. If so can you please specify? Thanks! Enjoy the pictures! What do ya think?




1/5: [Remove the filter socks.] Really about the socks? I'm afraid of too may particles floating around. I'll give it a try. Also, can I get the plant-grow bulb at Home Depot and is it in Flood form? I have the timer set for 16hrs on and 8hrs off, however, I get excited and want to turn them on early for (in my mind) faster results. Probably no better results? Ok. Off with the socks. Good idea. Is the grow-light a flood light like those pc flood light? Thanks for the help! I will send a full report and pictures in a few weeks!

1/7: I replaced my flood lights with 2700K "soft white" PC Flood lights today. Same wattage...they just seem dimmer. It's that red light. Hope it works better.

1/12: I spent some time reviewing the begining of this thread and noticed that most of the pictures showed bright green thick mats of algea on the screen. I am not getting that after 5 weeks. I am getting dark brown/red stuff and it's only about 1/4" combined. [The stealthy high-nutrient black/brown algae that must be removed right away.] I did use some of the brown/red stuff to seed the new screen when I built it. Should I rebuild the screen and seed it with some hair algae from the tank? [not now.] Also, at the bottom of my sump, beneath the screen there is red/brown slime forming (see picture). Should I remove/treat for this or can it be concidered benefitial? [leave it.]

1/12: Here is 5.1 oz of the black oil (I read from your other site). Funny enough, under the layer of black stuff there was some bright green algae. Any thoughts on that? [that's why it needs to be removed right away.]

1/20: CLEAR!!!!!! My scrubber has been up since December 18th and tonight the Nitrate test (Nutrafin) read clear indicating 0 nitrates! Awesome. Thank you SantiMonica. Awesome. 0 Nitrates on the Salifert Test too.
One of the big benefits of a scrubber is that it keeps food in the water. Here is an update pertaining to this:

Part 1 of 7:

Taken from "Reef Food" by Eric Borneman:

"Detritus, marine snow, particulate organic material, and suspended particulate matter are all names for the bits of "dirt" [food] that flow around the reef; material that is composed of fecal material, borings, algae, plant material, mucus, associated bacteria, cyanobacteria and other particles. Decomposers (mainly bacteria and associated flora and fauna) break down waste material in the water, on the reef, and primarily, in the soft sediments. The result of their presence and action is not only a food source in and of itself, but provides raw material for channeling back into the food chain, largely through the benthic algae and phytoplankton.

"Phytoplankton [food] are small unicellular algae, or protists, that drift in the water column. They may be very abundant in and around coral reefs, and they are capable of absorbing large amounts of organic and inorganic nutrients. [...] Some of the reef animals can feed directly on phytoplankton; many soft corals, some sponges, almost all clams, feather-duster worms, and other filter feeders utilize phytoplankton directly as a food source. Small animals in the water column, termed zooplankton [food], also utilize phytoplankton as a food source. For the smaller zooplankton, phytoplankton and bacteria are the primary food source.

"Both of the [photos not shown] are from reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The left photo shows the clear "nutrient poor" (oligotrophic) waters of the outer reefs. The right photo is of an inshore "nutrient rich" lagoon reef off Townsville. Notice how coral coverage in both systems is high, and even though the green phytoplankton-filled lagoonal reef is nutrient rich, it supports a high density of Acropora.

"Coral reef food sources, then, are largely produced by the ocean. Bacteria, detritus, phytoplankton, zooplankton, small benthic fauna, mucus, and dissolved organic and inorganic material of various types and sizes are what comprise the majority of food on a coral reef.

"In aquaria, we are faced with several realities. Our phytoplankton and zooplankton populations are generally negligible to non-existent in comparison with coral reef communities. Those which do exist are either rapidly consumed without having a chance to reproduce, or they are rapidly removed or killed by pumps and filtering devices or suspension-feeders. Coral mucus, bacteria, detritus, larval benthos and other "psuedo-plankton" might be present in a reasonable amount if the water column were not stripped. On the other hand, dissolved organic and inorganic material [nitrate, phosphate] levels are frequently much higher than they are in the ocean. [...] Even very well maintained aquaria are generally found with much higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorous than wild communities. Even though many desirable organisms are able to utilize these nutrients, levels in most aquaria are very unnatural, and coral reefs under such conditions often wane or die - a process known as eutrophication.

"It is the lack of water column-based food that results in limited success with the maintenance of some desirable animals, such as crinoids, flame scallops, clams, certain corals, sponges, bryozoans, and many other invertebrates. Even the symbiotic (zooxanthellate) corals [like SPS] suffer, despite many obvious long-term successes with these animals.

"In terms of previously mentioned export mechanisms, it really does little good to be cultivating or adding more food material in the water column if it is all being rapidly removed by filtration devices. Live rock and sand provide abundant filtration, and some of the articles in past issues describing the set-up and use of unskimmed tanks are, in my experience, something that should be seriously considered. Algae Turf Scrubbers are also viable systems that provide low ambient water nutrient levels [of nitrate and phosphate] while maintaining higher amounts of food and particulate matter in the water. I also feel that if protein skimmers are used, they should probably be used in an intermittent fashion.
Thought Of The Day:

A few folks have seen (or thought that they had seen) their skimmers "working less" or "producing less" after their scrubber started working. While this may have happened for other reasons, there is really no direct reason that a scrubber should cause a skimmer to produce less. This is because a skimmer and a scrubber remove different things: Scrubbers remove Inorganic Nitrate and Inorganic Phosphate, which are invisible, and which are the things that your test kits test for. Skimmers remove food (Organics). So having a scrubber remove the Inorganic Nitrate and Inorganic Phosphate really shouldn't cause a skimmer to remove any less food (unless you are feeding less). What MIGHT be happening, is that less Inorganic Nitrate and Inorganic Phosphate in the water means there is less food for bacteria (bacteria eat Organics AND Inorganics), and if there is less bacteria, then there is less to skim out.
I am having some hair algea problems on my one rock and I might try this. ;) I will just make a small one though becuase I dont have too much room on my thirty gallon. I also don't have two pumps.
Update of the Day: New Research on Skimmers and Organics:

The whole point of scrubbers is that they remove Inorganic Nitrate and Inorganic Phosphate, which are the things your test kits measure, and which are also the things that cause nuisance algae to grow. The other good point about scrubbers is that they leave Organics (food) in the water for the corals and fish and bacteria to eat (the bacteria also then become coral food.) People who prefer skimmers, however, say that skimmers removes Organics (food) before they break down into Inorganic Nitrate and Inorganic Phosphate.

I say, why not just feed less, instead of feeding more and then removing it with a skimmer? Let's look at it from their viewpoint. Their viewpoint is "Feed more, and remove the excess Organics (food) with the skimmer." Well, the current January 2009 issue of Advanced Aquarist just published extensive research into how well different skimmers remove Organics. They refer to Organics as "TOC", which is the Total Organic Carbon; TOC is the the combination of Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC), and Particulate Organic Carbon (POC). Here is the article, and this is what it said:

"In addition to some dissolved organics, small particulates and microbes (bacterioplankton, phytoplankton) can be removed at the air/water interface of the [skimmer] bubble as well (Suzuki, 2008). The skimming process does not remove atoms/molecules that are strictly polar and readily dissolve in water, such as some organics, salts, inorganic phosphate, carbonate, etc.

"The skimmer pulls out all of the TOC that it is going to remove by the 50-minute mark. Beyond that time point, nothing much is happening, and the TOC level doesn't change much.

"Thus, all skimmers tested remove around 20 - 30% of the TOC in the aquarium water, and that's it; 70 - 80% of the measurable TOC is left behind unperturbed by the skimming process. It may be possible to develop a rationalization for this unexpected behavior by referring back to Fig. 1. Perhaps only 20 - 30% of the organic species in the aquarium water meet the hydrophobic requirements for bubble capture, whereas the remaining 70-80%, for whatever reason, don't."

So, the strength of skimmers (since they don't remove Inorganics) is supposed to be that they remove Organics before they break down. But this research shows (once again) that they don't even remove the Organics. Here is additional 2008 reasearch that shows the same:
how strong does the light have to be for an algea screen and where can i purchase a clip on the sump light or a complete set? any online? thanks for the help
I got the clip on lights from Lowes for less than 7 bucks each. I also got 2 65w grow bulbs 2850k for the fixtures these were less than 7 bucks apiece. I don't have a reef ready tank so I bought an overflow with 2 bulkheads but realized I only needed one. I am going to run 1" PVC from the overflow, down to my sump via a ball valve, and 90 over my sump. I bought a coupler also so I could slip connect the pipe into it for easy removal. I am assembling it tonight so I will post pics when done.

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:
Ok here is my go at your little DIY project. I "uber simplified the design since it is just a prototype.


Above is the scrubber. I ran 1" pvc line down from the overflow, through a ball valve to control flow, and over the sump.



Here is a pic of the flow.


I already have seen algae growth. It's been less than 24 hrs.
In the pic the flow it at about 10%. After I took the pics, I was messing around with the flow and got it up to about 30% and covering about 90% of the screen. I may need to enlarge the slot in the PVC. If I turn the water up anymore, it splashes on the bulbs. Not a good mixture.