nice article mr. floyd and hope to read the second part sooner. one thought though, how did you come up with the 12 sq in : 1 cube of frozen food/day ratio? thanks!
i see. if what we want to have in our ATS's are the GHA, and considering that ATS units are more compact than a fuge, is it right to assume(?) that GHA are superior than other algae, say caulerpa?
In the past 6 months, there have been several basic changes to the core concept of the Algae Scrubber, and these changes resulted in many people experiencing better growth and more effective filtration.
By far the biggest change is that the size of the screen needed for a given system is no longer dictated by the volume of the tank or the bio-load, but is instead based on the amount of food you add to the system. This has resulted in much smaller screen requirements; in some cases, ridiculously small screens when compared to the previously guidelines.
The second is the optional lighting scenario using twice the light intensity and half the photoperiod, which can power through the initial dark algae growth stages some experience, and can also be helpful in battling tough tank algae.
Third covers the advent of LED Algae Scrubbers.
I went through and edited the previously posted “Basics”, mainly for the purpose of addressing the 3 above items. Many other sections were also affected, and I have incorporated as many hints, tips, and tricks as I could. Even if you have read through the previous “Basics” summary before, read this one again. And again.
Some of the pictures in this are based on the old sizing requirements, but are still good for examples of specific principles. For this reason, and the lack of pictures of smaller builds using the new requirements, I have kept many of the pictures the same.
Part 2? Yeah yeah…I incorporated a little more into this one, and I have a start on Part 2, but it needs revamping too!
This will likely be the last summary revision for this version of the Algae Scrubber. There is a new version being developed (not by me) and it is currently being kept under wraps as it is in the middle of the patent process (again, not by me) so I know very little about it, except that it will supposedly have vast improvements in many areas, and will not resemble any Algae Scrubber that anyone has ever seen (this frustratingly includes me). The principles are all the same, so this summary has value still. But just be aware that a lot of this information (that I’ve but so much time into assembling…grrr!) might just get thrown out the window. Tidbits of info? On the new version, you won’t have to cut a slot in a pipe, can remove and clean the screen without shutting off flow,
Anyways….the re-revamped Basics:
Algae Scrubber Basics Summary: February 2012
There are many options when it comes to building your own Algae Scrubber. Hopefully this series of posts will wrap up all the basic concepts as clearly and concisely as possible. It seems that many people look at this concept and think they can make some kind of major improvement, and post their idea. Then, a newbie can look at that and think that it makes great sense and mimic it, without understanding the pitfalls. I feel that it is important to understand the concept and purpose behind the basics, and why you should rarely deviate from them without fully understanding the basic concepts first.
Most of the issues people encounter with their DIY builds can be directly attributed to missing one or two of the basic principles. So consider this a "best practice" summary. That is, there are several ways to build an Algae Scrubber, but there is always a cheap and easy way, as well as the most effective and efficient way.
The Vertical Waterfall Algae Scrubber
99% of this summary is dedicated to the basic of designing and constructing a modern, vertical screen, waterfall-style Algae Scrubber, illuminated from both sides. This is simply because this design is currently by far the most efficient and effective type of Algae Scrubber design, and the only one that I recommend building. The occasional mention is made regarding considerations to make for building a single-sided Algae Scrubber, or for a horizontal/slanted Algae Scrubber. From here forward in this series of posts, horizontal or slanted Algae Scrubbers will be referred to as “non-vertical”.
The vertical waterfall style Algae Scrubber is very efficient for a couple of reasons. The design allows you to illuminate the algae from both sides and place the lights very close, which reduces the distance that light has to travel through water in order to reach the algae. The water flow over the screen is relatively thin and moves fast; this is important, because algae requires turbulent flow in order for nutrients to reach the cells on a microscopic level (Google “boundary layer”). Because of both of these factors, vertical Algae Scrubbers require less light and material than the older style non-vertical Algae Scrubbers for equivalent filtration capacity.
The Slot Pipe, Screen, and Fasteners
The principal component of the modern vertical waterfall Algae Scrubber is the slot pipe and plastic canvas screen. The screen is inserted into a section of horizontal PVC pipe which has a slot cut into it. The screen is typically held in place with a fastener through a cut-out section of the screen, like this:
The slot pipe itself should be Schedule 40 PVC at a minimum. Don't use vent pipe, flexible hose, or thin-walled PVC. The reason is that cutting a slot in the tube weakens it enough that it can bow over time and cause the slot to change width, and cinching zip ties tightly around it can make that worse. This is especially true for a wide, tall Algae Scrubber. Anything over 24" should probably have 2 slots, with a small section in the center left uncut (maybe 1/4") with some kind of means of support at the center. It may look fine at first, but with heavy growth, you start to see this:
I'm not saying that it won't work, and I'm not critiquing the design pictured above. It just got me thinking that it can't be good to have that pipe flexing that much. So this is a recommendation I am making for Algae Scrubbers with screens over 24" wide. But check out that growth!!! That's 6.5 pounds of algae (drained).
NOTE: I left that above section in here because I just love that picture. But the reality is that unless you are feeding about a 1/4 cup of food per day, you’ll never, ever need an Algae Scrubber this big. Read on…
When running an Algae Scrubber fed directly from the overflow, there is usually no need to deviate from the size of the drain pipe that you currently use. But, that all depends on your total resultant flow to the pipe, length of screen, etc. In the majority of cases, this doesn’t change anything. However, if you had a large tank, and were combining four 1” drain lines together to feed one large Algae Scrubber, you have different considerations.
If you're doing a pump fed Algae Scrubber, either top of tank or sump, try to match the size of the slot pipe and other PVC components to the recommendations from the pump manufacturer, and if in doubt, err on the side of larger pipe. Larger pipe puts less head pressure on the pump, which will increase the flow rate.
Cutting the Slot
The width of the slot should be approximately 1/8" wide, the same length as the screen which you are using (as exact as possible), and as straight as possible. Cutting a straight, even width slot is arguably the most difficult and critical part of building an Algae Scrubber. If the slot is crooked or uneven, the screen may not hang properly, and there may be areas where the flow is lighter and heavier. This can result in sections of weak growth.
The width of 1/8” is what works best for a screen that has about 35 GPH of flow per inch of slot length. This flow rate is the minimum ‘target’ flow rate you want to have. At this rate, the water will ‘pile up’ in the pipe and purge the air out, and the water drain out fairly evenly across the entire screen.
Cutting the slot too narrow will result in low and uneven flow across the screen, resulting in areas of low growth. If you feed the scrubber via the overflow, this can cause big problems. Water can only flow so fast through a certain opening, and while this flow will increase with pressure, there is still a limit.
Cutting the slot too wide can also result in problems. If the slot is too wide for the total flow, then the air does not purge from the pipe as easily, resulting in the water ‘shooting’ through the pipe and dumping out on the far end. The only reason to widen a pipe is when you want a greater flow rate per linear inch of slot. It doesn’t take much of an increase in width to allow a significant increase in flow. If you think about it, the 35 GPH/in slot is 1/8”, and half of that is take up by the screen, which means 35GPH/in flows through a slot that is essentially 1/16”, maybe 3/32” if you don’t count the screen as completely blocking half the flow (since it is mesh after all). So increasing the slot width by 1/16” can likely allow double the flow. For your Algae Scrubber to be successful with a wider slot, the screen really needs to be rough enough, so just pay attention to that when roughing up your screen for a high-flow setup.
However you go about this, you might need a few tries to get good at it. PVC is cheap, so practice on a small section so you get used to how this is done. It’s going to take a little time and patience – don’t rush it. Mark the slot, and cut carefully. If you mess up, do it again. Once you solvent weld an end cap and a union to it, it is not as cheap to replace (but still relatively cheap).
Doing it right means using a power tool.
You could use a Dremel with a cutoff wheel
An Oscillating tool:
A roto-zip (and a guide jig) or a router
Plastics like PVC are ‘grabby’, and using a roto-zip or router takes extra precautions - so this is not for the inexperienced, but it makes very straight slots. With the right jig setup, you could also use a handheld circular saw, but then you are lowering a spinning blade onto the PVC (if you’re cutting the slot in the middle and leaving the ends uncut).
One of the best ways to cut a perfectly slot straight is by using a table saw. However, there really is no way to cut a slot in the middle of a section of pipe (or across the whole length of one side of a pipe) without removing the anti-kickback device and lowering the pipe on to the spinning blade. I have successfully done this, and it is definitely not for the person who is not fully respectful of power equipment and comfortable with the above mentioned method (or any of the other methods, for that matter)
However you decide to cut the slot in the pipe, remember to observe all necessary safety precautions. Either that, or have someone else do it for you.
I read a post from one person who reported that they had their table saw grab the piece of PVC pipe while cutting the slot and shoot it across the room. Turns out he had the blade too high and the pipe rotated on him as he wasn’t using a fence of any kind to guide the pipe. Be smart and careful.
The search for the "perfect material" for growing algae in the vertical waterfall configuration has always come back to the same material, the Clear #7 Mesh Plastic Canvas. This can be found at almost any fabric (Jo-Ann Fabric) or craft-type hobby store (Michaels), usually in the knitting materials section. I have seen it at Wal-Mart, next to all the yarn. If you google “plastic canvas” you’ll find hundreds of links. You can feel free to experiment, but this material has been proven to work over and over again.
The reason that it works so well is because it is cheap, flexible, light, and easy to rough up. It is also translucent, which is critical. As algae grow thicker on a screen, the outer layer starts to block light to the lower layers. This causes weakening of the algae at the point of adhesion to the screen material. Allowing light to penetrate to the base of the screen from both sides helps to prevent the lower layers from weakening and detaching from the screen. Any material that blocks light is fundamentally inferior, all other things being equal. This also means don’t use any of the colored screening materials that you will see.
A brand new screen is slick and smooth. Except for the top edge of the screen, it needs to be roughed up so that the algae has anchoring points. This is a critical step and it absolutely must be done properly. Once the screen is established, algae can grow very thick, it can hold a significant amount of water, and it will get heavy. I have seen pictures of screens that weigh several pounds. This weight is distributed across the screen, and with a rough base, it will hold very well.
To rough the screen up, the best thing to use is a bi-metal hole saw. These saws have teeth that protrude out to a sharp point, and are great for tearing up the screen
As the above picture shows, you need to drag is back and forth across the screen. I suggest you sit in the garage or outside with a cutting board on your lap and lay the canvas on that. When you start roughing the screen, do a lot of random movements. Don’t concentrate on one spot for very long or you’ll wear through the screen and tear it. Rotate the screen often. You can also tilt the saw bit as you drag it so that the teeth won’t snag the screen. You should get a good heaping tablespoon of plastic from each side of a 10x10 screen.
After it’s all done, your screen should look like this:
Give the screen a good rinse and a light scrub with an old toothbrush to clear off all the pieces that are ‘hanging by a string’. These pieces are inert plastic, but still, you don’t really want these floating around in your aquarium.
Though I haven’t used one myself, I have heard that a rasp (available at any hardware store) is also great for roughing up this material. There are handheld rasps (similar to a Ped-Egg for your feet, except much sharper), and there are bit-mounted rasps (for power drills). It looks like it could be a little easier to tear the screen with this tool, but there is much less elbow grease involved. The drill bit rasps I have seen don’t appear to have protrusions large enough to “dig” into the screen and result in a cactus-rough surface.
Some have tried other methods of roughing up the screen. 80 grit sandpaper will definitely rough up the screen, but it doesn’t leave it ‘prickly’, so it’s not very effective. Recently, someone put a screen in the oven for a few minutes, then sprinkled it with aragonite sand and pressed it on. It was a neat idea, but it blocked the light from penetrating to the base from both sides, so it didn’t do very well.
The bottom line here is that there really is no shortcut. You only have to rough up the screen once, so stick to the tried and true method, unless you feel like experimenting on your aquarium.
As previously mentioned, the top edge of the screen (where it is inserted into the slot pipe) should not be roughed up at all, or else algae can easily grow into the slot and restrict the flow. The amount of material you leave smooth depends on your design, mainly, how far you plan on inserting the screen into the slot pipe. Regardless of this measurement, the smooth section should extend at least 1/8” down below the slot.
Most people have uses standard zip-ties to secure the screen to the slot pipe, since they are cheap and easy to use. Generally you have to use new ones each time you clean the screen (because you have to cut them), or you can re-use them if you’re handy with the tip of a razor blade and can get them to release.
You can also use releasable zip ties (I found them in the electrical section of Home Depot), but they’re not as easy to release as you would think they would be, unfortunately. I have used them, and I still need a mini-screwdriver to take them off.
Velcro straps can also be used, however they need to be free of adhesives, and I have never been able to get an answer from manufacturers about the stuff that has hooks on one side and loops on the other (such as OneWrap) regarding their safeness in aquaria. “Medical Grade” would be the safe way to go, but I haven’t looked much into those.
Another method of holding the screen in place is to use plastic shower curtain rings. It works very well, however you should have extras on hand in case one breaks when you’re removing it.
Yet another is to use sections of PVC pipe, one size larger that the slot tube, to make rotatable rings. This works very well, just make them narrow so that they don’t block too much flow.
The best one that I have found to date is the nylon beaded cable tie, which, like the zip-tie, is inert, but super-easy to release, so it’s good for months and possibly years. I haven’t seen these in any store, I had to order them online.
The ones I bought are perfectly sized to fit around a 1” PVC Schedule 40 pipe. These are my personal favorite choice. If you hang the screen only from the center (with the screen touching the top inside of the pipe) then these might not work very well. Instead, use them at the corners of the screen. Another nice this is that the beads are just a little bigger than the #7 mesh screen holes, so you can just push them through very easily.
TIP: This is an important point – if you have a screen or screens that are held in place in the center of the pipe (or anywhere away from the ends) you do not want to cinch cable ties down hard! Since there is a slot cut in the pipe, cinching down the ties will cause the pipe to pinch closed and you will get reduced flow in the center. The zip-ties should just be snug enough to hold the screen in place.
I’ve seen a few designs that don’t use fasteners, but there are considerations to make with these designs.
Preventing water creep along the pipe
This is an important part of the slot pipe design. The issue here is that when you are running water though a horizontal pipe with a slot in the bottom of it, the water has a tendency to creep along the bottom edge of the pipe, not matter how perfectly horizontal you install it. If your Algae Scrubber is positioned completely over your sump, this may not be a big issue, as any errant flow will just drip into the sump. If your pipe ends extend close to the edge of the sump however, a steady trickle of water can result in gallons of water on the floor. I can attest to this.
The solution is very simple. Right at the point where the slot ends, place a large plumbing gasket, such as an o-ring (use several, they’re cheap), or even a bulkhead gasket. The point is that it needs to prevent water from getting past it. I can tell you from experience that a standard zip-tie will not work – the profile is too low.
In many cases, you need to put this piece on the pipe before you weld the cap on the end of the pipe, or else it will be very difficult to install. This one is a ballcock washer, and definitely needs to be installed before the cap is installed:
Here’s what I used on the latest mod to the Algae Scrubber I run
I found these at Ace hardware in the plumbing gasket section. I forgot to put them on before solvent bonding the ends on, but luckily they were flexible enough to get over the end cap. They work fantastic!
As far as spray and salt creep is concerned, you want to avoid buildup on the lamp itself. No matter what you do, there will still likely be some buildup due to evaporation, so you will want to wipe off the lamp or fixture periodically (as needed). Make sure the lamp has cooled down, remove the lamp if possible, and wipe it down with a soft cloth and warm water. This is rather easy to do in place with T5HO lamps, and more difficult for spiral and multi-tube CFLs; just be gentle so you don’t crack the tube.
The water will cascade down the screen smoothly, and then drop off the bottom edge. If you don’t let the bottom of the screen sit in the water, it’s going to pour off and crash down, and splash everywhere. That’s not the problem I’m discussing here, I’m talking about spray from the slot pipe or screen.
The ideal solution is to block the source of salt creep or spray – the slot pipe itself. While 99.99% of the water that cascades down the screen will stay on the screen, occasionally there will be droplets of water that pop and fly around, and over time these can cause salt creep.
The most recent and effective solution to the spray issue is also one of the cheapest and simplest. Saran Wrap!! I don’t have a picture of this, so just use your imagination: take a piece that is a little longer than the slot and wide enough to wrap around the pipe plus about an inch or so, drape it over the pipe, and touch it to either side of the screen. Water tension does the rest, and the Saran Wrap suctions onto the screen. Presto. No spray (from the slot). You still might get some droplets randomly flying off the algae mat, so other protection might be necessary, but the slot spray is definitely the biggest culprit, and Saran Wrap is a great weapon.
Aside from Saran Wrap, the best spray blocker is a box that totally encloses the screen on all 4 sides and bottom, and has a removable lid. Such a box would have a drain hole in the bottom, and would typically be made out of acrylic, but could be made from glass also. This is beneficial for other reasons too, but we’re just talking spray blocking right now.
Closing the top with a lid, or at least extending the blocker up to the top of the slot pipe, will minimize the random drops that occasionally fly upward, as well as evaporation. A lid should not lip over the outside of the box, rather the inside so that any condensation will tend to stay inside the box.
The next best would be an enclosure with an open bottom. The advantage to an open-bottom enclosure is that it's easy to build. If you extend the screen to the water level inside the sump, you can nearly eliminate noise and microbubbles. Pictures illustrate this best:
The most basic full-screen spray blocker would just be a couple of plastic panels draped over the tube. Here are a few examples:
I don’t recommend enclosing CFLs in glass or plastic jars. IMO, it is difficult to allow for adequate air convection with such an arrangement. CFLs get hot even with air convection, and if a hot lamp gets in contact with the plastic, it could melt and might start a fire.
Planning your Algae Scrubber
There are 2 basic ways of supplying flow to an Algae Scrubber: directly from the overflow, or from a dedicated pump.
The above diagram does not illustrate the top-of-tank Algae Scrubber, which would apply to someone running a sumpless system, however this is just a modification of the pump-driven Algae Scrubber with the pump in the display tank.
The very first step you need to do before buying, measuring, or sketching up anything, is to decide how you are going to supply your Algae Scrubber, and determine what your available flow rate is.
In any case, you need to measure the flow rate. Do this step. It is critical. Do not, I repeat, do not calculate the flow rate based on pump curves and head-feet of pressure. This may sound like a total pain in the behind, but just trust me on this one. Would you rather go through all the effort of building an Algae Scrubber, only to have problems and find out that you didn't have as much flow as you thought you did? Believe me, I've been there.
If you've been reading this thread, you will see that at some point I started making a big deal about this. The reason is that it is a big deal and I think many people don't realize that their pump does not pump at the rated flow, and in the majority of cases, it doesn't come close to the flow calculated by using a standard head-foot calculator program or table. So I have chosen to make it the #1 priority for an Algae Scrubber design, hands down. You have to know your actual flow.
For a drain fed Algae Scrubber, fill a pitcher with the water entering the sump. You will probably need to rig up a temporary pipe or routing configuration so that you can fill the container. For a pump-fed Algae Scrubber, set up the pump in a sink filled with water to the same level as your pump will be submerged, and connect the tubing required to reach the height of the connection to the horizontal slot tube, so that you mimic as best as possible the actual conditions. Backpressure created by the slot/screen is negligible unless your flow rate significantly exceeds 35 GPH per inch of slot length.
Now that you've done all this, fill the container and record the time it takes to fill it. Do this at least a dozen times. The way I do this is by using a recording device, like a digital voice recorder, and just calling out "Go" and "Stop", then afterward, playing it back and using a stopwatch to get the time intervals. You could also have someone else run the stopwatch and write down the times. Average out the times and then figure out how many gallons per hour of flow you are actually getting. If you have multiple drains, measure and extrapolate GPH for each individually, and then add together.
For instance, if you are using a 1/2 gallon pitcher, and it takes 4.5 seconds to fill it, then you would have (0.5 gallons / 4.5 seconds) x (3600 seconds / 1 hour) which would be 400 GPH.
Don't be surprised if you have a lot less flow from your pump than you thought you had. I had less than 1/2 of what I thought it was. Head-feet calculations are usually way off, because most people don't use big enough return hose or have other restrictions in the plumbing. Some of it is inherent to reef-ready aquarium design (1" drain, 3/4" return, Danner Mag-Drive 9.5 and larger pumps need 1.5" return, see a problem?). So don't feel bad. A lot of people are in your situation, but they just don't know it.
Start with a clean pump. If your pump is not clean, soak it in vinegar for 15 minutes and scrub it good. After running an Algae Scrubber for about 4-5 months, your pump flow will drop about 15%, and by 6 months, it will have dropped by 25%, so you want to know your best-case flow and build around that. It's a lot easier to start with a throttled-back clean pump and open it a little when the flow rate decreases. Figure out your system flow rate, multiply by 80%, and that will be a good starting point. But, it's not going to kill you to start at full flow, and end up with a little less over time. You might just want to clean your pump a little more often, say every 3 months. So it's up to you. Just being aware of your system conditions puts you miles ahead.
Big Basic Change #1 - Screen Size
Originally, the standard method used to calculate the screen size required was based on the size of the tank. Around September 2011, that method was revised to be based on feeding amount. This is a very important change, because not only does it mean an Algae Scrubber screen is more appropriately sized, it also means you will get better growth results. As it turns out, bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to your algae screen – the algae on a screen that is too large compared to the amount being fed will become nutrient deficient over time as the algae will want to grow across the entire screen. Concentrating this algae growth down to the appropriate size in accordance with the amount fed means you will typically get more green growth, and green hair algae is what filters the best (and smells the least, I might add).
The good news here is that this means that in most cases, you can get away with a significantly smaller screen, and guesstimating your bio-load specific to your system is completely unnecessary.
Once you figure out your available flow, then it's time to figure out your optimal screen dimensions.
There are 2 ways of looking at this: square inches based on length and width dimension, and square inches based on illuminated surface area. The latter is technically more accurate, but since most people light both sides, the former is usually referenced.
The new rule is based on cube-equivalent amount of food fed daily, regardless of how many gallons you have in the system. You need 12 square inches of screen illuminated on BOTH SIDES with a total of 12 watts of fluorescent light for 18 hours/day for each cube-equivalent fed into the system per day. That means 6 watts per side of real wattage, not equivalent wattage. LED wattage is addressed separately as it has a different set of rules.
The cube-equivalent is defined as any ONE of the following:
1 frozen cube
10 pinches of flake food
10 square inches (60 sq cm) of nori
0.1 dry ounce (2.8 grams) of pellet food
3.25 mL of liquid coral food
If you feed something else and are having a hard time determining the cube-equivalent, then take the daily amount of food, put it in a blender with some water and puree it well, then strain it using a coffee filter (or a rotifer sieve if you happen to have a spare one laying around) and pour the food into an empty Ocean Nutrition or other cube-type food tray, and you will have the cube-equivalent for that amount of food.
If you light the screen from only one side, double the dimensional measurement of the screen; light requirement is the same, it’s just all on one side.
For a non-vertical screen, double the dimensional measurement again. Any screen that is not 100% vertical is treated as a horizontal screen (even if it’s only slightly slanted). This is because of the channeling properties inherent to a slanted or horizontal screen; there is an immediate loss of efficiency when the screen is non-vertical.
So, just so we're 100% clear on this:
Vertical, lit from both sides: 12 square inches of screen material per cube of food per day, 12 watts of light split between each side.
Vertical, lit from only one side: 24 square inches of screen material per cube of food per day, 12 watts of light on one side.
Non-vertical: 48 square inches of screen material per cube of food per day. Lighting must increase by a factor of 1.5 (discussed in the lighting section). In this case, a MINIMUM of 18 watts of light is needed, preferably much, much more.
So now that you know your actual flow rate AND the necessary size of your screen (dimensional area), now you are ready to figure out your dimensions.
You want the flow to be a minimum of 35 GPH per inch of screen width. You can get by with a lower flow rate, but your Algae Scrubber may not be strong enough depending on your bio-load. You can have higher flow also, which is generally not a problem as long as your screen is rough enough and you aren’t getting black slime algae (which is a sign of high nutrients, and needs more frequent cleaning until it lightens up). What you want to achieve is enough flow so that you have a full sheet of water across the screen off the bottom edge, like this:
Simply take your GPH (that you just measured) and divide by 35, and this will be your maximum screen width. Then, take that number and divide it into your total screen area to obtain the height dimension of the screen. The result is the total area of roughed-up screen that you want.
You want to add to the height dimension for the section of smooth screen that will be inserted into the slot pipe. You want to allow for the distance that the screen will be inserted into the slot pipe, plus at least 1/8" of smooth screen below the slot tube to help prevent algae growth into the slot. The total amount of smooth screen you need depends on how far you insert the screen into the slot pipe. A little extra smooth screen at the top never hurts, as it can be trimmed off later if you leave too much.
You may also want to leave smooth screen at the bottom as well. Most screens, in some form or another, will ‘dip’ into a pool of water at the bottom. This submerged area does not grow algae very well, so you can leave that smooth too.
The critical area, and the only area that contributes to scrubbing power, is the roughed-up and illuminated portion of the screen. Figure out your necessary screen dimensions, and then add the extra smooth sections to the height dimension.
If the only way you can mount your scrubber is to have it hanging in free air and high above your sump, you can leave a significant amount of smooth screen below the ‘effective’ area, or you can attach another screen to the bottom edge of the main screen. You may end up with some gooey growth on this screen though, so you should avoid it if possible (IMO).
There are 3 basic types of light sources that people use: CFL, T5HO, and LED.
Since LED Algae Scrubbers are becoming all the rave, I have further expanded the discussion regarding LEDs. The LED based Algae Scrubber has a different set of rules to follow with respect to wattage and photoperiod, as well as a few other factors. So to avoid confusion, I kept the LED section separate and it follows the fluorescent section.
In the cases of fluorescent lighting, the optimum spectrum / light temp for growing algae is 2700K-3500K, with 2700K-3000K getting the best results.
Proper wattage of light and proper flow to the screen are the critical factors; color temperature / spectrum comes in behind those. You can use higher K ratings, but the real-world (anecdotal) evidence suggests that the optimal range for growing algae is heavy in the red spectrum. If you look at regular plant grow lights, you will find that most of them (especially LED grow lights) are very heavy in red.
Power Compact, or PC lamps, are not recommended, because they run way too hot for the amount of light you get out of them. I don't even care for them for tank lighting.
Quantity of lighting is dependent on the size of the Algae Scrubber screen (dimensional area). In general, you want 1 watt (actual, NOT “incandescent equivalent”) of light per square inch for optimal scrubbing power. You can get away with less, but I would not recommend it. You will likely experience problems at some point.
As you will notice throughout this thread, it is generally stressed to follow the minimum 1 watt per square inch guideline. This is because it solves many Algae Scrubber issues. The reason behind this is scientific. Light interacts with algae and causes N and P (and ammonia & nitrite, among other things) to be absorbed, and chlorophyll is created (among other things). The more light, the more nutrient reduction you get. There is a direct correlation between the quantity of light supplied and the amount of nutrient reduction capability.
A non-vertical Algae Scrubber requires at minimum 1.5 times the light as you would need for a comparable vertical single sided Algae Scrubber. Here is where I will switch to the total surface area method. A vertical single sided 1-cube per day Algae Scrubber would be 24 square inches, lit with 12 watts, or 0.5 watts per square inch of total surface area. A non-vertical Algae Scrubber needs to be 2x as large, or 48 square inches, and have 18 watts of light, which results in 0.375 watts per square inch. I would argue that you need at least 0.5 watts/sq in, if not a full 1.0 watt per square inch to make up for the efficiency loss factor inherent to a non-vertical Algae Scrubber because of channeling and/or water draining through the screen instead of across the algae mat. Older dump-bucket or surge style Algae Scrubbers may not have this problem, but then again, you’re only filtering when the water is moving fast, which is only periodically (again, boundary layer). I hope this convinces you not to try a non-vertical Algae Scrubber, unless you just think it would be cool.
In general, you need to run your lighting for 18 hours on, 6 hours off (see UPDATE below). All life needs downtime. Plants are no exception. They have adapted to the environment over millions of years, and as the saying goes, you can’t fool Mother Nature. So don't go thinking that you can run lights 24/7 and get 25% more algae growth, it doesn’t work that way. The lights should be run on the reverse cycle of your display tank lighting; this assists in maintaining pH at night, as well as spreads the light-induced heat load more evenly throughout the day.
You want the lights as close as possible, within reason. The effective power/intensity of light follows the inverse square law. If you move a light twice as far away, the intensity drops by a factor of 4. If you move it twice as close, you get 4x the intensity. The balance point seems to be about 4" from the screen for CFL, and about 2" with T5HO. The reason for 4" away for CFL stems from hot spot issues due to the concentrated signature of the lamp; CFLs need to be a bit further away to cover the proper area without too much intensity. T5HOs do not have this problem, as the light is very evenly spread.
As far as spacing is concerned, CFLs need to be spaced according to the allowance of the design. If you need 2 per side, just position them for the best coverage. This is really on a case-by-case basis.
The advent of the smaller, higher light screen (discussed in detail to follow) has presented an issue with respect to CFL Algae Scrubbers – how to fit all that light into an even smaller area! There is no rule saying that you cannot trim the CFL reflectors so that they can ‘cross over’ each other. I literally just thought of this as I was editing this. Think of it like when you’re watching a movie and someone is looking through binoculars – you see the “8”-on-it’s-side shaped viewing area. Just trim both reflectors where they intersect using some tin snips or a wire cutter. (Be careful of sharp edges!) You may lose a little light from one lamp that is throw to the adjacent lamp (which it can now “see”) but since we’re concentrating the screen down in size, we need acceptable losses, and this is one. There are also socket splitters that you can use so that you can put 2 CFLs into one socket. However, you lose a little more with this method because the lamps will extend out from the reflector.
As for T5HO, you generally want a lamp spacing of 2-3". For T5HO, your Algae Scrubber will generally need to be designed around the lamps and spacing. CFLs are more flexible in this respect, allowing a variety of configurations.
If you run your lighting 18 on/6 off, the lamps must be replaced every 3 months. This is not just a rule for Algae Scrubbers, you will see many people make this suggestion for refugium lighting as well. That is because there is a power drop-off and a spectrum shift that takes place over time, and when you go much past 3 months, you hit that drop-off point. We can't see the difference, but then again, we're not algae - it can. The result is that your screen will slow down growing and reduce filtration, which you do not want.
The light source needs to be positioned so that it is pointing directly at the screen material. Do not place the fixture so that it points parallel to the screen (from the ends or the top), place it so that directs the light toward the screen. Perfectly perpendicular is optimal, but if you have to point it at somewhat of an angle just to make it work, that will be fine. This is more of a concern for CFL than linear sources (T5HO), however I have seen a few T5HO build with the lamp 4 inches above the screen, shining straight down. They didn't work so well.
Big Basic Change #2 – Alternative High-Intensity Lighting
Around the same time that the screen sizing method was changed, another suggestion was made: you can use twice the wattage of lighting and cut the photoperiod in half. This has a couple of advantages:
The first and primary advantage is the fact that more intense light promotes greener growth faster. This is especially useful in systems that have an initially high nutrient load, or systems that are overrun with algae in the display tank. More intense light will penetrate deeper into the algae mat. In a high nutrient system, the screen tends to grow darker (brown or black). This dark growth prevents the light from reaching the ‘roots’ of the algae, which may lead to the algae detaching from the screen more easily between cleanings. In systems that have a lot of algae in the display tank, it is more difficult to establish a preferred growth location (the Algae Scrubber screen); increasing the light level on the screen can greatly assist in this battle.
The second advantage is increasing lamp life, or more accurately, increasing the time between the need for lamp changes. Since you are only running the lamps half the time, they will last twice as long. This is of course offset by the need for twice as many lamps, but if you combine the new screen sizing guideline together with the higher-light guideline, in most cases you are reducing the overall wattage requirement by half or more versus the old tank-size guideline.
The caveat to this rule is that you must keep an eye on the type of growth. You want green hair algae; anything else requires an adjustment to the ON cycle. If you are getting dark growth, then you need to increase the photoperiod. If you are getting yellow growth, you need to decrease the photoperiod. I suggest making adjustments in 1 or 2 hour increments per week until you get the desired green growth.
Also, as the lamp will eventually start to weaken, you need to pay attention to your growth. Around the 3 month point, the growth may start to get darker. If/when this occurs, you will need to start increasing hours until it grows green again. When you reach 18 hours, it's time for new bulbs. Keeping track of the “on” time that you use will greatly assist you, as you will be able to see a pattern developing. Growth can vary from week to week, but should be relatively consistent on the long term, as long as nothing else changes; changing feeding amount, rearranging the tank, adding more LR, an unknown dead fish, etc, can all affect the color of the growth. Constantly fiddling with the photoperiod should not be necessary after the Algae Scrubber is “dialed in”. You should only need to adjust upward about 1 hour per week as the lamps weaken.
NOTE: Yellow growth is a spongy, gooey type of growth that is also great at light blocking, and is a result of not enough nutrients being delivered to the screen/algae in proportion to the light provided. To resolve this, increase flow if possible, add iron, or reduce the number of hours. You can also increase feeding as long as it’s not enough to overwhelm the Algae Scrubber and cause dark growth.
T5HO Users: This rule has a little bit of a drawback to it for T5HO users. If you are using a stock fixture, this method doesn’t really apply. However, if you are getting yellow rubbery growth, you can back down the photoperiod. However, I would try trimming the screen down first. I did this and the growth got much better. I was running a 20” wide screen and after taking some PAR measurements, I realized that the light in front of the last inch of exposed lamp dropped dramatically, so I just cut that part of the screen off (actually I cut 3” off each side) since I was just getting red turf there anyways and was tired of scrubbing it off. If you are using a DIY T5HO fixture, you might be able to use narrower reflectors and squeeze another lamp in. You lose a little in reflector efficiency, but gain more in additional lamp wattage.
CFLs and Reflectors
The most common CFL used is the 23W Spiral. This is the actual wattage, not the equivalent wattage. There are a few different type of CFL lamps, and each one has a different ideal application. These are: spiral CFL, linear CFL, floodlight CFL.
A bare lamp will work without a reflector, but it will do the job much, much better with one.
The spiral CFL is definitely the most common type available and the most widely used. There are 2 ways to orient the lamp: with the end pointing at the screen or with the side facing the screen.
With the end lamp pointing at the screen, a reflector is a must-have piece of equipment. Without a reflector, a lamp pointed directly at the screen will do very little, since a small percentage of the light comes out of the end of the lamp. The cheapest, easiest, and most common reflector for this orientation is the dome-style reflector, which is available just about anywhere.
This reflector provides a wide light signature, since the side light is reflected to the front. They come in several sizes, and you want the biggest reflector you can fit in the space, relative to the size of the screen, that is.
The dome reflector does the job just fine, and one of these should be used at a minimum. However, it is by no means the ‘perfect’ reflector. The reflector has a ribbed, dull surface that does a good job of diffusing the light, but it is not as efficient as a shiny, highly polished spectral reflector. Also, about 1/4 or so of the lamp (depending on the brand) sticks out past the reflector, and most of that light does not get directed toward the screen.
Using several different sized round reflectors can be done also when space is a limiting factor, even though the smaller reflectors are not as effective. This is probably not an issue for very many people anymore due to the new screen sizing guidelines.
With the side of the lamp facing the screen, the reflector is usually a DIY job With a side-style orientation, more light is shed directly to the screen, but you still need to re-direct the light from the sides and back of the lamp towards the screen. There are a few fixtures that you can buy with integral reflectors, but most are very small. Most off-the-shelf light fixtures are for use in a shop or garage and have a half-round solid section, which may or may not have a reflector. If it does not, you can simply line it with aluminum foil or another highly reflective material.
The setup below uses off-the-shelf shop lights. The fixture on the left has reflective material installed.
The advantage to the side-lamp design is that since you can hang the lights from above, they generally take up less space (depending on your reflector) versus the dome reflectors.
In order to spread the light out evenly and wide (but not too wide or you’ll lose intensity at the screen), you want a wide reflector. Finding such a reflector is not easy. Since spiral CFLs can be considered a point source (more of a “blob” source, but this is for simplicity), using an HID reflector can be effective. A DIY beer can reflector can work also. Even some Mylar or aluminum foil will do the job.
Searching for a flexible reflector material and making your own reflector will yield the best results. A properly made reflector for a side-lamp orientation, such as the one shown below, can direct almost 100% of the light toward the screen.
Linear CFL lamps are commonly referred to as twin, triple, or quad tube, etc. They are similar in nature to Power Compacts in that the lamp is in a “U” shape, but commonly have an integrated ballast like a CFL. They are usually higher wattage than standard CFLs, are more intense, and can run hotter. However, since they use the screw-in base just like CFLs, they are easy to use and I have recently looked at a couple of nice builds using them, so I thought it was worth adding a section covering them.
Linear CFLs would be installed similar to the sideways spiral CFL, hanging the lamp from above. Reflectors are generally the same principle; however the source is now more linear, so your reflector in turn should follow the line of the lamp and curve around it. Here are a few of the better ideas for this that I’ve seen. One uses cut-up linear fluorescent reflectors, the other uses mirrored acrylic.
A reflector similar to the last one in the spiral CFL section could be done. Because the lamp profile is more linear, the reflector would be slightly different dimensions – probably more square than rectangular.
The floodlight CFL is simply a spiral CFL enclosed in a lamp housing like you would see for a standard incandescent floodlight. They are not very efficient at spreading light when placed in close proximity to the screen, as the light is diffused at the end of the ‘bulb’ and the reflector is of a small diameter. However, they are good for use on smaller, narrower screens – ones that have one dimension less than 6 inches. They should generally not be used for primary lighting, unless you are running a small Algae Scrubber. With the new screen sizing guidelines, the use of these CFLs for quick-and-dirty builds is a little more acceptable, but they are still relatively inefficient, so you will likely need to use more wattage than you normally would.
You can see in this picture that the floodlight only provides significant light to the area directly in front of the lamp – and that’s the only place that’s going to provide adequate filtration:
They can be useful in situations where space is highly restricted, but for larger Algae Scrubbers, more total wattage will likely be required over what would normally be needed.
They can also be helpful to supplement light from dome-reflector setups that just need a little more light but there’s not enough space for another dome.
One thing to remember when handling CFLs: install them gently. Most people are used to twisting in an incandescent lamp tightly. CFLs fracture easily at the base where the element (tube) meets up with the ballast. Cranking on them like causes these fractures. So if you can't grab on to the base to tighten, just get the lamp in there snug enough for the connection to be made. This goes for the lights in your house and office also - it's the #1 reason why CFLs burn out early.
T5HO lamps and Reflectors
T5HO lamps are inherently superior to CFLs. They spread the light out more evenly than CFLs, and they can be placed closer to the screen without overpowering the algae. Notice in this picture below how use of T5HO can result in almost perfectly even light coverage:
With that factor alone, bare T5HO lamps likely fall in between bare CFL and properly reflected CFL as far as scrubbing power is concerned.
Reflected T5HO is very arguably superior to all other fluorescent lighting. However, it is more difficult to build a T5HO Algae Scrubber. You have basically 2 options.
The first is to buy and build around a stock fixture, like the Nova Extreme 1126/1127. This fixture was great because it had individual reflectors and only cost about $70 shipped, but not so great because the endcaps were cheap and would bust in shipping. However, this fixture has reportedly been discontinued. You can still find it, but for how much longer, who knows. The only other fixture that is decent that I have found is the Aquatic Life 2x24 T5HO fixture, which runs around $100.
The second is to build something upon which to mount and protect endcaps, then connect to a ballast. Also, since the reflectors are generally one of the more expensive components, enclosing the screen in an acrylic or glass box to protect them is pretty much a given.
As far as lamps go, the same rules apply. I personally use the PlantMax 3000K Red/Bloom lamp, I can get them for $5 each in packs of 8 (up from $4/ea). Here’s my Algae Scrubber, Revision #2 (which will soon be replaced with and LED Algae Scrubber)
With a custom build, you can really use all the power of a T5HO lamp. The TEK-II reflectors from Sunlight Supply are expensive, but I have had great results. Other individual-lamp reflectors, such as Ice Caps, work very well. Stock fixtures work best when each light has an individual reflector, but just about any reflector will do better than none.
The ballast you use can also make a big difference. I recently learned that Workhorse ballasts are not that great, and that you can get a lot more out of your lamps by switching to an Ice Cap ballast. Get the right one though, or you can over-drive the lamps and quite literally cause them to explode. Not good for da reef mon.
Sunlight Supply also makes a T5HO fixture that needs no external ballast, and you can daisy-chain up to 10 of them together. However, the reflector they make for it is just plain aluminum and nowhere near as reflective as the TEK-IIs or Ice Caps, which use Anolux-MIRO IV (which is something like 96% reflective)
The disadvantage to T5HO is that you’re pretty much locked into a dimension that you have to build around. T5HO lamps come in standard lengths of 24”, 36”, 48”, and 72”. There are shorter lamps, such as 18”, but it’s difficult to find lamps in the right color temperature, and they’re generally much more expensive than 24” or 48” lamps (which are the cheapest T5HO sizes). This means that the dimensions of your Algae Scrubber are locked into about 20-22” in length, which is the illuminated length of the lamp (the fixture is 24”, the lamp right around 21” long). This means your flow to the screen has to be around 700-800 GPH. You can make the screen narrower, but you will end up wasting part of the lamp. The benefits of T5HO over CFL would outweigh this loss to a certain point though.
This can be overcome if you have a dedicated fish room, or enough space to make a vertical T5HO Algae Scrubber, like this:
And to my knowledge, those endcaps are no longer available. Right now, is seems many companies are shifting away from T5HO and putting all their efforts into LED development. So, it’s time to roll with the punches – and they’re feather punches, as you’re about to see…
LEDs – Why they are different
LEDs are a completely different source of light. Fluorescent, metal halide, HPS, and other HID lighting are all mercury based, and the light is shifted from the ultraviolet range into the visible range with phosphors. LEDs emit certain colors of light depending on the compounds used in the diode itself, so it is initially visible light; phosphors are then sometimes used to shift wavelength to achieve various colors.
LEDs, very recently, have proven to be highly efficient, and as more people build LED Algae Scrubbers, more information is being confirmed. There are still a few unanswered questions, but LED Algae Scrubbers so far have been shown to have a few major advantages over CFL and T5HO.
The most obvious one is lamp life - they never actually burn out (unless you drive them too hard). LEDs have what is called an L70 (or L80) rating, which is the number of hours, running at rated junction temperature, at which the total lumen output will have dropped to 70% of its original output. At this point in time, that is usually about 50,000 hours. If they are on 18 hours/day, that's about 7.6 years to L70.
However, as has been predicted, there is a big difference with LEDs when it comes to Algae Scrubbers. Since LED Algae Scrubbers ‘waste’ very little (if any) bandwidth, they are, in effect, double or better the intensity of CFL or T5HO for comparable PAR output. What this means is that you generally only need to run them half as long, or 9 hours a day (just like the double-light CFL/T5HO Algae Scrubber). Couple that with the fact that the intensity of a well built LED Algae Scrubber fixture is, on average, 1.5x the PAR of a comparable T5HO fixture (I have verified this on a Nova 1126/7 vs 50W e-Shine), LEDs are somewhere between 3 and 5 times as effective. Some DIY LED users have claimed that they have found that you can get away with 1/5 the total LEDs wattage vs. CFL or T5HO and get [i]better results[i/]. Not only that, 50,000 hours at 9 hours/day is over 15 years to the L70 date. Some manufacturers are claiming L70 dates into the 100,000 hour range, and while that may not be proven, it’s actually highly probable the LEDs themselves will last that long (the rest of the fixture? I doubt it.)
Some possible negative factors for LEDs are the up-front initial cost, long-term phase shift, and the effect of steadily decreasing output. Phase shift is the reason that most small municipal airports are avoiding LED lighting; white LEDs are actually blue with phosphors added, and they ‘fade’ over time, and shift to blue. Runway lights are white, taxiway lights are blue, and getting them confused is bad. The LED industry is rapidly evolving, so the L70 numbers will continue to increase, cost will decrease, and issues like phase shifting will likely be improved upon. The flipside to the L70 and phase shift issues is that most people who are DIYing LED Algae Scrubber lighting will likely replace their fixture with the next best thing before this ever becomes an issue, if it even becomes an issue at all. With a stock fixture, at least those currently available at an affordable price, will probably fail for some other issue before the LEDs go bad (driver, power supply, fan, moisture problem, etc), prompting the user to replace the fixture with a better one.
LED Grow Lights for Algae Scrubbers
The LEDs that you want to use for growing algae on an Algae Scrubber are the exact fixtures that are used to grow plants. There are different plant-growth fixtures available, and some are not what you want. ‘Flowering’ lamps have a lot of variety of lamp types that you do not need.
Here’s the bottom line: you only need RED. Nothing else is really necessary. White LEDs of any kind have not proven to be highly effective, and neither are Blues (with the exception that they accompany reds in a low ratio).
The best results so far have utilized 660nm “Deep Red” LEDs; there have been far fewer attempts using 630nm Red LEDs. These wavelengths roughly correspond with the Chlorophyll A and B red peaks. Optionally, some 455nm Royal Blue LEDs can be thrown in; according to horticulturalists, and one study by NASA, this ratio is approximately 7:1 red: blue.
One Algae Scrubber user, who has made multiple LED Algae Scrubbers over the past couple years, commented that the use of only 660nm produced great growth, but with the addition of a single blue LED, that growth got ‘stronger’. The algae was more difficult to scrape from the screen, and the strands were more stringy or ribbon-like, and less hair-like. This anecdotal evidence suggests that the blue component is used supplementally in some fashion. So a little blue can’t hurt; add too many and you’re probably just wasting power.
To my knowledge, no one has tried 660s in combination with 435s (which are the corresponding “A” peaks) or 630s with 455s (“B” peaks); however I have a couple of fixtures that I had custom made just for the purpose of testing this. Eventually. Sigh.
Recently, someone told me chlorophyll utilizes the “A” band during midday sunlight, while the “B” band is utilized more in the morning and evening, when the “A” band is mostly reflected and/or absorbed by earth’s atmosphere. Anecdotal evidence seems to support this.
Here are some examples of LED fixtures people have made, and a few growth pics as well.
^^ That was how it looked at first, and below is how it looks more recently (9 days growth)
He stated that “due to the reduction of parameters, now my net grows quite thin, on the other hand not increased my biological load, so I assume that growth is normal”. Thin? Yes. Green? Yes. With CFL or T5HO, you would tend to get yellow growth.
^^ notice mostly shades of green. Only green.
Again, patch growth, but only green.
Buy or DIY?
There is still a relative lack of selection in stock LED fixture that are satisfactory for our purposes, and an even greater lack when you’re trying to keep the cost low. So far, the only one I have come across that is even close is the 50W 4G grow light from e-Shine systems. This is a cheap fixture from China (usually between $100-$120 each, shipped) and has little track record. And like anything you buy from China, you get what you pay for, and if something goes wrong, chances are it’s easier to throw it away and buy another than to get it repaired. It does have a pair of fans on it, which means it can suck in moisture (and it’s not wet-location rated) and people have reported fan-cooled fixtures failing or the fans getting louder and louder over time (not just e-Shine fixtures, either). But, time will tell. For now, it’s what we’ve got available.
There are LED grow bars available (from China) that don’t have fans and are supposedly waterproof, but these are relatively new, and from what I’ve heard about them, they are not reliable. Also, they are generally only available in 1W arrays, and the density of LEDs is not enough. This might change in the very near future…we’ll see.
The 50W e-Shine fixtures are a tight array of 1W LEDs – 2 rows of 25 each, about 1/2” on center, 45 660nm Deep Reds and 5 455nm Royal Blues. What’s nice about this is that you can put it right up against the Algae Scrubber enclosure, within 2” of the screen, just like a T5HO. These definitely need to have acrylic or glass between them and the screen due to vent holes for airflow, and they weigh about 9 lbs each, so properly supporting them and protecting them from moisture is key to longevity.
There is a decent mathematical reasoning for going LED.
For initial cost, CFL and dome reflectors are the cheapest; clip-on dome reflectors are $10 or so each. Replacing lamps might run you as low as $10/year for a small Algae Scrubber, and as much as $30-$40 or more a year for a larger Algae Scrubber. CFL is the best low-cost alternative for the ‘cheap and easy’ build.
T5HO is more, either a stock fixture or end caps and reflectors, so your initial investment can be anywhere from $150-$220, then lamps are running currently about $5 each, and you need to replace those every 3 months or so (depending on the “on” time per day). If you have extra T5HO parts or fixtures laying around, then you could go with that. But setting aside the moisture concerns, going out and buying new for an Algae Scrubber has, IMHO, progressed past the point of diminishing returns.
Buying a pair of stock LED fixtures is going to run you $200 minimum, and could last years. Compare an Algae Scrubber using the 50W e-Shine 4G Grow bars to one using 2-lamp T5HO fixtures. Initial cost of 2 T5HO fixtures and 4 grow lamps will run you around $170-$220, and a pair of the e-shine fixtures about $220 (ballpark). T5HO lamps every 3 months will run you $20, or $80 per year. The e-Shine fixture break-even point is, at worst, just over 6 months. In the first 3 years, you can buy a pair of e-Shine fixtures for each T5HO fixture and break even. Just based on lamp replacement cost alone, the e-shine fixture only has to last 2.5 years to break even. It’s likely that a better product will be available within that time frame.
DIYing an LED array for a small Algae Scrubber might run you less than $100 and could last years as well. For the DIYer, there is a product that you can spray onto your fixture that makes it essentially waterproof. I personally don’t know much about this product but I have heard it works very well. If you feel up to building your own LED Algae Scrubber, at this point, I say knock yourself out. Just make sure you do your homework before putting pen to paper; study other designs and learn from the mistakes and successes of others.
As far as active cooling, for either a stock or DIY fixture, it would be ideal if the source of airflow to the LED fixture’s heatsink came from outside the sump or tank area. Not easy to do, and this is one inherent downfall of the LED Algae Scrubber.
3W versus 1W
With an Algae Scrubber, the goal is even coverage. CFLs have a bit of a problem in this regard, unless you use a good reflector. T5HO has few issues due to the linear nature. LEDs have an inherent issue with spotting.
One thing that is important to point is that 3 x 1W chips will put out more lumens than one 3W chip. Why? Because as technology has progressed, marketing has stuck itself in the mud. A 1W chip does not pull 1W and a 3W chip does not pull 3W. Some may argue this based on measured current and voltage drop, and I don’t want to get really technical here because by the time I post this, it will have all changed again (LOL).
3W chips need to be appropriately spaced and distanced from the screen to avoid spotlighting. The distance from the screen is the biggest downfall. You can put diffusion grating in front of the LEDs to help distribute the light better, but that also tends to cut down the intensity. Not much, but we’re going for best bang for the buck here. Lenses should be completely avoided (they only make spotting and burning worse). Most DIYers prefer 3W LEDs. Just space them out so that you get as even coverage as possible. The consensus seems to be that you need 1/3 to 1/4 the total wattage of 3W chips as you would fluorescent lamps for the appropriately sized Algae Scrubber. As previously mentioned, some even claim 1/5 the wattage.
I’ve been researching a bit on how many 3W LEDs you need to use. The general consensus at this point seems to be that you need one 3W LED on each side for every 15-20 square inches of screen. Going with the new feeding-based sizing guidelines, it seems that a simple technique would be to use one 3W LED on each side for every 12 square inches. So a 2-cube/day Algae Scrubber would need 4 3W LEDs, two on each side. Distance from the screen is something that depends on some factors, such as how hard the LEDs are being driven and how long of a photoperiod is used. New ground is being broken on this almost daily, and I am in the process of gathering as much information as I can from the DIYers so that some kind of ‘standard’ can be established.
1W chips are much better, IMO, for Algae Scrubbers, because you can pack them closer together, put them closer to the screen, and get near-perfectly even coverage. This mainly applies to off-the-shelf fixtures, which usually have one circuit board and the individual LED dies are close together. It’s hard to get 3/4” spacing using 1W chips on stars. But if you have ever had the opportunity to see a 1W LED grow lamp array in person, you would agree that they are bright as #@$&*^!%. I’m talking blindingly bright, and extremely even coverage. As far as the wattage comparison for those – not sure. The “1/5” numbers came from the DIY 3W LED folks…
Other thoughts on LEDs
Previously, I wrote that you probably should not rely on an LED Algae Scrubber for total filtration, only for supplemental filtration. This is no longer the case, not by a long shot.
Unless you are short on immediate cash and not comfortable DIYing some LEDs, there’s just no reason not to do an LED Algae Scrubber, in my opinion.
It is important to note that there has been no study that I could find that indicates what exact LED spectrum is ‘perfect’ for algae growth for this specific purpose. So there is a lot of new ground being broken right now.
Just make sure you realize that:
1) LED Algae Scrubbers do not have as long of a track record. Then again, the modern Algae Scrubber has really only been around itself for about 4 years.
2) Only recently have there been builds with any sort of success. However, some of those builds have been extremely successful.
3) Fixtures themselves are still not tested for long-term stability and reliability (mostly related to moisture issues)
4) If you build one, you’re going to be on the cutting edge, which can cut both ways. Take your time and think it through well, and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
There are LED floodlights available at the local hardware stores and other Big Box stores. Do not use these. This one below is a 3000K 75W incandescent equivalent, which equates roughly to an 18W CFL:
The problem is this: when it comes to LED, you have to throw the Kelvin rating out the window. It means nothing for Algae Scrubbers, it is only good for trying to match the color rendering given by a comparable fluorescent lamp that is used in a home or office. Remember, LEDs are a different type of light source and isn’t UV based and shifted with phosphors. Any LED lamp/bulb/floodlight/etc you can buy in a store that is not specifically a grow lamp is completely useless
This should really go without saying, but you should always plug your lights into Ground-Fault protected receptacles (GFCI).
Always use waterproof sockets for your CFLs and end caps for your T5HO lamps. This is a little more expensive, but is necessary to avoid corrosion and electrocution. Generally, waterproof CFL sockets do a pretty good job of sealing the base and socket from moisture, but they still should be silicone sealed for an extra layer of protection. T5HO waterproof end caps do an excellent job of sealing the end of the lamp, but the wires that feed into the bottom of the sockets are not sealed, so after all wiring is complete, you need to fill in the bottom with silicone caulk.
You can't see it, but there will be tiny amounts of salt spray that will build up where you screw a CFL bulb in, and also where you make electrical connections. When the buildup gets thick enough, it can short out and trip a breaker or GFCI receptacle, or shock you. So each time you replace a CFL screw-in lamp, re-seal it. You should be able to pour water over it without it causing a problem (but don’t try it). Use GE Silicone I Door & Window caulk, which is generally accepted as aquarium safe, especially since you don’t intend for it to be in direct contact with water anyways.
Moisture protection for LED fixtures, DIY or off-the-shelf, is the biggest issue facing the progression of LED Algae Scrubbers. At this point, it’s just a risk that you either take or try to mitigate against. So far, no build that I have seen has incorporated adequate moisture protection, aside from passive cooling and spray-coating a DIY fixture.
Screen Break-in Period
Since the time frame by which you will see certain types of growth largely depends on the bio-load, initial nutrient conditions of the system, and strength of the scrubber, not everyone will see the same growth progression. Some have taken months to get a full screen of green growth; others get great results in just a few weeks. However, every screen must go through an initial break-in period, and that is relatively independent of anything else. Usually, the first week or two of growth is almost identical for any scrubber; after that, different system will tend to diverge depending on the conditions.
When you first start up your algae scrubber, even with the screen significantly roughed up, it is still relatively slick on a microscopic level. It is plastic, after all. The reason behind roughing up the screen is to vastly increase the surface area, and to give long strands of algae something to hold on to.
As the tank water cascades over the screen, there will initially be a buildup of brown slime, similar to what you see on the insides of your tank plumbing (and like what you clean out of your pump). Over time, this growth on the screen will strongly adhere to the screen. The bond is so strong that you would have to soak the material in vinegar to completely remove the algae. This may sound familiar to anyone running pumps or powerheads (which should pretty much include everyone).
During the break-in period, this brown layer is easily rinsed away (with a sink sprayer, for instance). For the first few weeks, a very light cleaning is all that is needed – just lightly running tap water. A gentle swipe of your fingertips will take most of this layer off, but will leave enough behind that if you put a new screen next to it for comparison, you will see a slight color difference. You want to leave behind anything that doesn’t easily wash away, including whatever is growing in the holes. You definitely don’t want to scrub the screen with a brush of any kind. Any growth you get for the first few weeks should be easily removed with your fingertips (not nails). If you happen to get some long green hair algae strands, you should be able to remove those with your fingernails (gently).
Usually after the second cleaning, the screen will have developed a foundation upon which algae will be able to form a good bond. What type of algae will grow next is dependent upon factors stated in the first paragraph of this section. Regardless of the type of growth, the screen will continue to mature to the point where if and when a thick mat of algae grows, it will stay firmly attached to the screen. This is usually attained around the 4-6 week point, and can be verified when algae grows inside the ‘squares’ of the screen and does not come loose during cleaning.
My screen break-in cleaning technique progressed as follows:
Week 1: Rinse with slow running tap water
Week 2: Same, except used fingertips to rub screen
Week 3: Rinse off with running water, then rub with fingertips
Week 4: Same
Week 5: Same, had to use backs of fingernails in some places
Week 6: Algae firmly attached. Used back of fingernails across entire screen (now I use a plastic scraper)
Every scrubber will have slightly different growth progression, but the guideline above gives you an idea of what to expect. See “Algae Growth Types” for some additional information.
Cleaning the screen
For the first 4-6 weeks, cleaning every 7 days is probably a good idea (see the ‘Screen Break-in Period’).
The exception is the ultra-high nutrient system that results in a black slime coating forming every 2 or 3 days. Such growth must be completely removed, as soon as possible - at the most every 3 days (see “Algae Growth Types”)
The general rule has been to clean your screen every 7 days. This is still the rule for single sided and non-vertical Algae Scrubbers.
If you run a double-lit vertical Algae Scrubber, now it is allowable to let the screen grow as long as 10, and in some cases, 14 days. Again, you need to pay attention to your screen growth, and that it as simple as checking it once a day, because the frequency of necessary cleaning relates to what kind of growth you’re getting.
I nice, thick mat of emerald green hair algae does the best filtering.
Regardless of growth type, as the algae mat grows thicker, the outer layers block light (and flow) to the lower layers, specifically where the algae attaches to the screen. This causes weakening of the strands, which can lead to algae detaching from the screen. This is more likely to happen with a single-sided screen, because the light intensity less at the screen level. It is less likely to happen in an enclosed-box 3D growth type system, as the algae is supported a little better.
What really tells the story is what the algae mat looks like when you clean it. If you are regularly cleaning off a thick mat of green algae that is firmly attached to the screen, you can probably let this go for a few more days between cleanings. Increase by one day at a time and monitor closely. If the algae becomes a lot easier to clean off, or becomes straw-like near the screen, this means the algae in the lower layers is not getting enough light and/or flow, and is dying, and you’ve reached (or possibly exceeded) the limit on how long you can go between cleanings.
If you are getting a thin layer of algae, but it’s not too dark (maybe a darker green or thin and brown, and you can still see the screen) you can let the screen grow for a few more days. The key here is that as long as light is penetrating all the way down to the algae attached to the screen, you can let it grow. You want to allow the green algae, however much you are getting, a chance to grow.
If you are getting a little thicker mat of brown growth, don’t go over 7 days. Same goes for the yellow, rubbery growth. You can clean these more frequently than 7 days; try to leave as much green hair algae that you have on the screen. If you are getting black, slimy growth, clean about every 3 days.
Slot pipe clog prevention
This issue is brought up on a pretty regular basis. Obviously, no one wants an overflow pipe to clog and overflow their tank. Most people take precautions to prevent livestock from entering the overflow pipe, such as an intake screen. In the case of the scrubber, they’re worried about the algae growing thick enough to stop flow at the point where the screen and pipe slot meet.
Almost without exception, this question is posed by someone who studies the design, but has never actually built or operated a scrubber for any length of time. I’m not trying to belittle anyone posing the question by saying that, rather just making the point that if you run a properly built scrubber, you’ll understand that this is really not a concern. Here’s why:
If you properly build and maintain a scrubber, there is virtually no chance that algae will grow thick enough to block the slot. I’m not saying that algae will not grow at the junction point of the slot and screen, it most certainly will to a certain extent. The water on the screen below the slot will get partially diverted over the top of the algae mat, as water takes the path of least resistance. As you approach the slot, the flow area is restricted to the narrow space between the pipe slot and the screen. This creates an area of flow pressure under which algae cannot grow to any significant thickness without succumbing to the pressure of the flow and releasing from the (smooth) screening material. Proper cleaning of the slot and the smooth portion of the screen during weekly screen cleanings virtually eliminates any chance of the slot clogging.
As for the interior of the overflow pipe and slot pipe, these can be clogged by variety of means. The most obvious of example is a snail, anemone, or other tank mate that makes its way down the pipe. This is a potential problem for any overflow pipe, but adding a slotted pipe with a cap on the end just makes some people nervous, because there’s no place for that obstruction to exit the overflow pipe. Fortunately, this is only a problem when you insert the screen too far into the slot pipe. If you only insert the screen far enough that is extends about 1/8” to ¼” above the inside of the pipe, then anything that makes it all the way through the plumbing to the slot pipe will get pushed to the end of the pipe by water pressure, and should only partially block the flow, and only at the end of the screen, if at all.
If you insert the screen all the way into the slot until it contacts the inside of the pipe, the obstruction could form at the beginning of the slot tube, and could substantially or completely block the water flow. However, this is perfectly fine as long as the inlet to your overflow pipe has a strainer on it that would prevent anything from entering the pipe.
I don't know if there is any advantage to full insertion vs. minimal insertion. Inserting the screen further into the slot pipe may even the flow out a bit, but I haven't noticed any glaring issues with the way I do it. This is why I recommend inserting the screen such that it protrudes no further than ¼” into the interior of the slot pipe.
With all that said, if you’re still concerned about the issue, and don’t want to take any chances at all (and you would be hard pressed to find someone to blame you), then there are a few techniques that can be implemented that will reduce or completely eliminate the chance of a blockage of the slot pipe causing your tank to overflow. Notice that I only mention a blockage of the slot pipe. This is because a blockage of the overflow plumbing before] the slot pipe is a totally different issue, but some of the solutions below will apply to both.
You can remove some of the horizontal pieces from the smooth section of screen, the idea being that with the horizontal portion removed, there will be a faster flow of water and less area for the algae to attach to. Something like this:
The larger open space means that cleaning off the algae that grows between the squares is much easier. I haven’t seen many people use this technique, and haven’t had much feedback either way, but I would expect that this could result in slightly less flow impediment at the junction point, which might mean slightly higher flow requirements in order to get even flow coverage. But that’s just a guess.
Originally, it was recommended to place crosscuts in the slot tube. You will see this on older builds. This is not recommended anymore, so don't do it. The idea was to allow for water to continue to flow if the algae grew up into the slot and clogged it, and also to prevent squirting. The result was that algae grew easily into the slot, because the pressure wasn't high enough to prevent it - flow was just diverted to the crosscuts. Then, the pressure was higher through the crosscuts, which resulted in squirting. In essence, crosscuts created the problem which they were supposed to solve. This is basically how the concept of pressure preventing growth (as described above) was brought into focus.
Herbie or BeanAnimal
The best way to run a scrubber, for more than one reason, is to feed directly from the full siphon standpipe of a Herbie (2-pipe) or BeanAnimal (3-pipe) system. I don’t want to go into a large amount of detail about these systems, or debate the advantages or disadvantages, so I’ll just briefly describe them.
These systems utilize the concept of the “tuned” standpipe; the first standpipe (“Siphon”) has a valve on it that can be adjusted until the rate of flow through that pipe is just below the rate of flow of the return pump, and the second pipe (“Open”) handles the excess without gurgling and flushing. The BeanAnimal system uses a third “Emergency” standpipe and has a modification to the “Open” standpipe that allows that pipe to “take over” as a full siphon in the case of a total blockage of the “Siphon”.
These systems are designed with a backup standpipe that is able to handle the full flow of the system in the case of a partial or total blockage of the main siphon pipe. This allows for the full head pressure of a column of water above the scrubber slot, which results in a higher pressure at the slot and even less chance of algae growth near the slot.
There are other considerations when running a scrubber off a tuned pipe system that I don’t want to get into here. I just wanted bring that option to light.
Slot pipe bypass
On some early designs, you can see a PVC tee in the overflow pipe for an “emergency” or “clog bypass”. The thought process was similar to the “crosscuts” idea, in that water would flow through the “bypass” if the slot pipe got clogged with algae growth at the pipe/screen junction, and the result was the same. What would usually occur is that the “bypass” would run very easily and not allow pressure to build up at the pipe/screen junction, and occasionally it would divert flow completely. This also helped bring “pressure preventing growth” into focus, and thus it is not recommended.
However, there is a modification of this concept that will allow the pressure on the slot pipe to stay high, while still allowing for an “emergency” or “clog bypass”. The key is that the alternate branch of piping must be as high above the slot pipe as possible, and must not be a closed pipe (or it will siphon).
Here is a sketchup of the basic concept:
The left side represents the overflow pipe that directly feeds the scrubber. The first PVC tee can really be placed anywhere with any orientation, but lining up the primary flow through the ends is best, with the bypass flow coming out of the side of the tee. The bypass line should then elbow upwards as high as possible, then elbow over to horizontal into another tee. The pipe below the second tee extends to the sump. The pipe above the tee provides an anti-siphon relief and should extend to the top of the trim on the tank. The bypass pipe should be one size larger than the rest of the plumbing from the point of the second tee to the sump, at least in my opinion.
If the overflow is from a drilled bottom / reef-ready tank, this means that you will have to run the bypass pipe up about 1/2 way up the back or side of the tank, keeping in mind that the level your standpipe/durso inside the overflow in your tank will need to be several inches higher. If you’re running this of an HOB type overflow, you still want the first tee as low as possible, but since you already have the back of the tank to work with, you can place it before you elbow towards the sump, then go vertically up the tank and elbow over to the second tee.
The important concepts to follow here are 1) the second tee is higher than the first, preventing free-flow through the bypass, 2) the second tee is high enough to prevent unwanted bypass, 3) the bypass line is not allowed to easily form a siphon, and 4) the bypass line should be able to handle 100% flow from the tank in case of a blockage before the slot pipe.
All pipes should be welded (not friction fit) and appropriately supported and secured in place, such as with straps or clamps on the stand or a wall.
End of Summary
Well that’s it for now. I tried to incorporate as much as I could into this one. There might be a few things to add down the line before the new version is released. Also people will continue to use the older version and there will undoubtedly be helpful hints that come up along the way, so there’s no ruling out a second part.
Ok folks, so that is my 13-page re-write of the original Reef Central Algae Scrubber Basics. I'm going to give it a day for anyone to read and critique it and maybe catch a few grammatical errors, etc. Also if you have better pics of your system, etc that you think would add value, post them here. Tomorrow night it's getting blasted on all the other sites I have it on.
also if anyone wants to re-post it anywhere, please feel free. I left the PAGE ## breaks in because some sites limit character count and/or picture count. This should work for most sites.
I can provide the raw Rich Text file also. Easy to use because it has the IMG tags in it.
Well no comments, maybe no one saw it because it was a sticky?
Anyways, I added this section:
Cleaning the screen
Cleaning the screen should be done remote from the tank. A common complaint of the past was that an Algal Turf Scrubber turned the water yellow, but that was because algae was generally removed from the tank with the screen in place, or it wasn’t well rinsed.
If you have lots of pod-eaters in your tank, and your screen is nice and green (no slimy growth) you can consider swishing the screen in the tank every once in a while before cleaning. I did this a few times, but I really don’t anymore.
Screen cleaning should be done in room temperature tap water. The reason is that freshwater kills pods that are continually munching on the screen. There will be millions more in no time, you just don’t want them causing algae to detach between cleanings.
I use a cutting board and a plastic pot scraper similar to this one https://www.pamperedchef.com/orderin...Id=241&catId=9 to scrape the algae off the screen.
You will need to use an old toothbrush or a stiff-bristled scrub brush to remove any algae that grows on the smooth area at the top of the screen. I also use a scrub brush to remove any red turf. Red turf seems to grow well in the lower light areas. I have since trimmed these areas off the screen since I needed to make it smaller.
The slot tube also should be cleaned by scrubbing with a brush and rinsing. If you have an enclosed box device, you will likely need to clean algae out of there occasionally too. I have to do this every cleaning, it’s amazing how well algae attaches to a smooth surface.
After all the scraping and scrubbing is done, give the screen a good rinse (15-20 seconds) in fast running water.
And had to change the break points so that each section was under 10,000 charachters. This seems to be a common cutoff point on a few sites.
If you wish to re-post this thread on another site or your local club site, please feel free to do so. I have attached the IMG coded .txt files so you may download it and re-post.
If you do so, please post a link on this thread to wherever you re-posted it. Any many thanks for spreading the good word!!!
Yes I keep notes on the max characters, max pics, and max links of each site. Some are only 5000 characters and really slow you down when you have to customize the post for it. Also including more than a few youtube links will really slow down some users because they automatically preview/load that video.
really nice update
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