Mega Powerful Nitrate and Phosphate Remover - DIY!

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Part 1 of 2:


Mega Powerful Nitrate and Phosphate Remover - DIY!

Are you tired of green on your rocks? Do you have to clean your glass more than once a week? Well then I'm sure you've been told (or you've figured out) that your Nitrate and/or Phosphate are too high. Sure enough, if these are too high, the green starts growing. Phosphate is the important one: If you can detect any phosphate at all with a hobby test kit (like Salifert), then it's high enough to cause algae to grow. So, what can you do?

Build an algae filter screen, that's what you can do. An algae filter screen, also known as a turf algae filter, a turf scrubber, or an algae scrubber, basically filters the water clean of nitrate and phosphate so that the green on your rocks and glass goes away. It does this by "moving" the growth of the algae from the tank to a "screen" outside of the tank. The idea is that you create a better growing environment on the screen than occurs in the tank, so that the algae grows on the screen instead. It works great!

Here's what you can expect: If you build your algae filter properly, your nitrate and phosphate will be incredibly low, sometimes unmeasureable by hobby test kits, within four weeks. I use Salifert test kits, and the readings I get are "clear" (zero) for both the Nitrate and the Phosphate tests. This is what you want. If you have been trying to get this yourself, then an algae filter is for you.

Here is my Algae Filter in a 5-gallon bucket; it's the only filter I have (other than the live rock) on my 100 gallon reef:




Here is the filter in operation with the lights on:




Here is my tank:


Hi-Res: http://www.radio-media.com/fish/WholeTank.jpg
Video: http://www.radio-media.com/fish/WholeTank08-11-08.mpg


My nitrate and phosphate are zero (clear on Salifert test kits), and the only thing in my sump is water. I removed the skimmer, carbon, phosban, polyfilter(s), and filtersock; I don't use ozone, vodka, zeo or anything else. I'm feeding massive amounts too; enough that if I had my previous filtering setup, I'd have to clean the glass twice a day, and everything in the tank would be covered in green or brown algae. Amazing.

The only thing you need to decide on is how big your algae filter screen needs to be, and if you want it to be in your tank's hood, or in a bucket, or in your sump. The basic rule is one square inch of screen for each gallon of tank water, if the screen it lit on both sides; the screen size should be twice this if the screen is lit up on just one side. A 12 X 12 inch screen, lit both sides, = 144 square inches = 144 gal tank; a 7 X 7 inch screen lit both sides = 49 gal tank; a 6 X 6 lit both sides = 36 gal tank. Algae filters get really small as you can see. A 12 gal nano tank needs just 3 X 4 inches! This small thing can replace the skimmer, refugium, phosphate removers, nitrate removers, carbon, filtersocks, and waterchanges, IF THE PURPOSE of these devices is to reduce nitrate and phosphate. If these devices have any other purpose, then they can't be replaced. If your tank is bigger than a 75, then just start with a 5 gallon bucket size and see how it goes. You can always add a second one, or build a bigger one later.

My example bucket version takes about 4 hours to build. Water goes in the pvc pipe at the top, flows down over the screen, then drains out the bottom. That's it! Oh, and it has clip-on lights. I can feed the tank a lot of food, and anything not eaten by the corals or fish eventually ends up as algae on the screen.


Here are some examples of DIY algae filter screens already built, from a simple nano one:








to larger ones:
















Here are some advantages of an algae filter:


o Allows you to feed very high amounts without causing nuisance algae growth in the tank.

o Can replace waterchanges, IF THE PURPOSE of the waterchange is to reduce nitrate or
phosphate or algae growth. Otherwise, it does not replace the water change.

o Grows swarms of copepods.

o Increases pH.

o Increases oxygen.

o Will NOT spread algae into the tank. It removes algae FROM the tank.

o There is no odor from the algae (only a slight ocean smell when cleaning it).

o Is very quiet when flowing, similar to a tabletop decorative waterfall.

o Introduces no microbubbles when adjusted.

o Removes ammonia too.

o You can even make a portable bucket! Just unplug the lights, lift up the pump
out of the tank water, and go put it in your next tank (or your friend's tank).
Don't let the screen dry out though.

o Works in saltwater or freshwater.
 
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Hi Santa Monica - this is the second time I have read up on the Turf algae filter. It def caught my interest as I have a tank in which I have no space for a sump. I was therefor looking at ways to filter without all the expensive equipment. Very interesting!
Looking forward to part 2-2.
Quick question, does the screen have to stand outside water with water trickling down or can it be used submersed?
 

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It will help my tank with its cooling problems as well! :D Unless the light is going to warm the water trickling down?
 

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I might add this to my small tanks filtration, looks real good if it works as well as you say.
Whos going to try it first?
 
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This is a very interesting DIY, but my question is why this over macro algae ?

Ain't my Chaeto doing the same as the algae screen ?
 

Ocean

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What water flow must you have on this?
 
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Part 2 of 2:


How to build it:

First, get your screen. Any stiff material that has holes in it, like knitting backing, plastic canvas, rug canvas, gutter guard, or tank-divider will do. Try going to hardware stores, craft stores, garden stores, sewing stores, or just get one of these online (in order of preference):

http://www.craftsetc.com/store/item.aspx?ItemId=43844
3.75- & 5-mesh Rug Canvas Assortment, 5 Pieces
Aquatic Eco-Systems: Tank Dividers

Don't use window screen though. The main problem with this kind of "soft" screen will be getting it to hold its shape; it will bend and fold too much. Stiff screen is easier to make stay put, and easier to clean.

If you have a nano with a filter hatch on top of the hood, then it's super easy: Just cut a piece of screen to replace the sponge filter, and put it where the sponge filter went. Leave the hatch open, an set a strong light on it, facing down directly on the screen. This is a good bulb to get; it will be bright enough to power the screen, and to light up your nano too:

23 Watt R40 Compact Fluorescent Flood 5100K Full Spectrum CFL

If your nano does not have a filter hatch on top of the hood, or if you have a regular tank, then here are the larger versions:








The first and main thing to consider is the flow to the screen. You need about 35 gph (gallons per hour) for every inch of width of the screen. Thus, a 2" wide screen would need 70 gph, and so on. Here is a chart:

Screen Width-----Gallons Per Hour (GPH)

1" 35
2" 70
3" 105
4" 140
5" 175
6" 210
7" 245
8" 280
9" 315
10" 350
11" 385
12" 420
13" 455
14" 490
15" 525
16" 560
17" 595
18" 630
19" 665
20" 700


Note that it does not matter how tall your screen is, just how wide it is. Let's start with an overflow feed: In this case the amount of flow is pre-determined by how much is overflowing; the maximum flow you'll get to the screen will be what's going through your overflow now. This is easy to figure out by counting how many seconds it takes your overflow to fill a one-gallon jug:

60 seconds = 60 gph
30 seconds = 120 gph
15 seconds = 240 gph
10 seconds = 360 gph
8 seconds = 450 gph
5 seconds = 720 gph


Take this gph number that you end up with, and divide by 35, to get the number of inches wide the screen should be. For example, if your overflow was 240 gph, then divide this by 35 to get 6.8 (or just say 7) inches. So your screen should be 7 inches wide. How tall should it be? As tall as can fit into the area you have, and, as tall as your light bulbs will cover. But how tall it is not as important as how wide it is.

Pump feeds: Since with a pump you have control over the flow, start with the size screen you can fit into your space. If the screen will go into your sump, then measure how wide that screen will be. If the screen will go into a bucket, then measure how wide that screen will be. Take the width you get, and multiply by 35 to get the gph you need. For example if you can fit a 10 inch wide screen into your sump or bucket, then multiply 10 by 35 to get 350 gph. Thus your pumps needs to deliver 350 gph to the screen.

You can construct your setup using any method you like. The only difficult part is the "waterfall pipe", which must have a slot cut lengthwise into it where the screen goes into it. Don't cut the slot too wide; just start with 1/8", and you can increase it later if you need to, based on the flow you get. I used a Dremel moto-tool with a "cut off wheel":




Now install the pipe onto the screen/bucket by tilting the pipe and starting at one side, then lowering the pipe over the rest. You may have to wiggle the screen in some places to get it to fit in:




Lighting: This is the most important aspect of the whole thing. You must, must, have strong lighting. I'll list again the bulb I listed above:

23 Watt R40 Compact Fluorescent Flood 5100K Full Spectrum CFL

... This the minimum you should have on BOTH sides of your screen. You can get even higher power CFL bulbs, or use multiple bulbs per side, for screens larger than 12 X 12 inches, or for tanks with higher waste loads. The higher the power of the lighting on the screen, the more nitrate and phosphate will be pulled out of the tank, and faster too.

Operation:

Regardless of which version you build, the startup process is the same. First, clean the screen with running tap water (no soap) while scrubbing it with something abrasive. Then dry it off and sand it with sandpaper on both sides. Then get some algae (any type) from your system and rub it HARD into the screen on both sides, as deep and as hard as you can. Then run tap water over the screen to remove the loose algae pieces; you won't see the spores that stick... they are too small, but they are there. Don't forget this algae rubbing part... it will speed up the start of your screen by a few days. Install the screen and turn on the water.

You can leave the light on for 24 hours for the first week if you want to speed up the process; otherwise just put it on a timer for 18 hours ON, and 6 hours OFF. You will see absolutely nothing grow for the first two days. On day 3 you'll start seeing some growth, and by day 5 most of the screen should have a light brown coating. If this level of growth does not happen on your screen, your lighting is probably not strong enough, or it's not close enough to the screen. Increase the bulb power, or move it closer.

When the screen looks something like this:




...then you want to give it it's first cleaning, on ONE SIDE only. Take the screen to the sink, run tap water on it, and just push the algae off with your fingers (not fingernails):



Wait a week, and clean the other side, gently. Wait another week and clean the first side again, etc. After a while you'll have to press harder to get the tougher algae off, and after a few months you'll probably need to scrape it with something, and it may eventually get so strong that you'll need a razor blade to scrape it off. But for now, be gentle; you always want some algae to remain on the screen when you are done. NEVER clean it off completely.

Don't forget to test your Nitrate and Phosphate before you start your filter, and each day after. I use Salifert:

http://www.marinedepot.com/ps_AquariumPage~PageAlias~test_kits_salifert.html

Post your pics of how you build it, the growth day by day, and your nitrate and phosphate readings, so we can all see how you are doing!
 
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Thalion: Yes it will somewhat increase evaporation. If you add a fan, it will do so greatly because of the large surface area.

Honda: Well then the bucket version, place above the level of the tank, will work for you. Yes, the screen needs to be out of the water, but this happens automatically with any of the designs I posted.

Scuba: Yes, it's just a screen with flow and light. Vertical is best for our purposes here, but other angles will somewhat work if there is no other option.

Tom: If cooling is needed, put a fan on the screen. Even without a fan, it always cools more than the lights warm it up.

Ocean: You want 140 liters/hr for every 2cm of screen width. Screen height does not change this.

Warr: Turf is different from a fuge/chaeto in so many ways:

o Reduces N and P to much lower levels, and faster, than fuge/macro can.

o Is very quick to respond to excess nitrate and phosphate spikes (the turf "screen" always
stays the same size after it is trimmed); much quicker than refugiums/macros which have
smaller surface areas after they are trimmed.

o Traps no waste/food like a refugium or DSB does; waste/food flows right past the screen.

o Does not release strands into display, like chaeto.

o Does not go sexual, like caulerpa can.

o Is 1/2 or 1/3 the size.

o Weighs nothing.

o Cools the water.

o Can be hung above tank so pods drain into tank.

o Is free.

o Is portable, if bucket version.

o Can run two, for backup.

o Will oxygenate the tank if main return pump goes out, if the scrubber drains into the display.
 
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This has to most likely be one of the best DIY projects ive seen in a while. Well worth a test. Ile be trying this in the new few weeks. Tnx SantaMonica ;)
 
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I found this method out of necessity, from the failures of the folks I hired:

I started reefing without any knowledge by hiring a maintanance man to design, setup, stock, maintain, and even feed a 90 custom bowfront reef in our office (by my desk!) in January 2006. Was the most visible guy in our part of Los Angeles. Well his version of knowledge was a SG of .040, no acclimation, a flow of 100gph for a 90, and taping his business card to the display for folks in other offices to see. The cleaner shrimp he threw in would freeze dead before they hit the sand. So nothing alive in the tank yet, and it was hard asking him questions when he would not show up for three weeks at a time. Fired him and looked for a replacement (he is still being recommended by a LFS.)

From a referral from another LFS, found a guy "doing this for 20 years", who actually did know proper SG. He recommended a tank rebuild and re-drilling to get more flow. Well he was good at showing up once a week on schedule, and changing 30% water. But he was missing some small things, like cleaning any of the mechanical filters, or, setting the skimmer so it would produce anything at all. He actually did get some corals and fish into the tank, however, so I kept him for a year. Then I started reading forums :). Here are some other flaws I found: Sand bed was not deep enough to be DSB; his nitrate test kit was years old and always showed "zero"; mixed up the SW one hour before bringing it for a WC; set flow to only 350gph (for a 90); never vacuumed sand; never blew detritus off rocks; never checked pH; added bioballs in the overflow to "make it "quiet"; did not know how much feeding was "overfeeding". Well, with so much import and almost no export, the tank and sandbed crashed in just 12 months. I took some water (that my guy said had zero N) to the LFS, and they said N was 100, and P was 3. The tank glass had needed cleaning twice a day, and no wonder. So I fired him too.

Just now learning some basics, In August 2007 I went lights-offs, and changed the parameters to best do an in-tank cooking of the rock. A few months later things were better, So I slowly added light and one damsel. Things progressed nicely, except I could never get zero N and P, and I could never get the algae off the rock and back wall (was covered in green). So my focus became nutrient removal. I did the mesh mod to my Euroreef CSS-8, experimented with the position, flow, everything. Then two things happend: First, I read that skimmers do NOT remove inorganic N and P, at all. Second, I was reading up on "display refugiums" that I could use, which would look cool with seahorses, and which would reduce N and P too. But someone commenting on them said "if you are doing this just to remove N and P, just use a scrubber... it's the most powerful way to remove nutrients, and you may not even need your skimmer".

Ah! So I scratch built my first scrubber in a bucket, bought a pre-grown screen from Inland Aquatics in Indiana (USA), and hooked it up. Day 1: skimmer dies! Turns out the plasic from the bucket causes this, but I did not know, so I just unplugged the skimmer and let the bucket run. Day 2, 3, 4... N and P were steadily dropping. Day 7: Zero!! Zero N and P, and with no skimmer! So I picked myself up off the floor, and here I am now.
 
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Very nice, I see you have been through the whole snake oil machinery of marine reefkeeping :whistling:

Thank goodness for forums or all of us would be in the same situation you were.

Well, to think of ways of including this into my system. Thanks again for the info.
 
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Ive been tinkering a bit. And this could work very nicely for someone with an existing DSB. It will enable them to have the best of both. A) Nitrate Eating Bacteria B) Nitrate & Phosphate Remover. Sadly I cant play around with the bucket method as my space is limited..., BUT I can however incorporate the entire design into my Sump DSB (Filter Sheet, Pump ect). Which would allow me to remove the pump/sheet without harming my existing DSB (If need be). While im on this topic anybody got any other simple designs?
 
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SantaMonica you by any chance got more example pictures of the DIY floating Screens or more info? From what I can see it might work out the simplest and "cheapest" in the long run.
 
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