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Thread: bacteria only scrubber

  1. #1

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    bacteria only scrubber

    I thought it might interest people on what happens when you go to an extreme non-mechanical approach.

    Before I found this site and started cranking on an ATS, I was refining a bacterial-only super low maintenance system.
    And I actually succeeded. Really well.
    But it was too limited.

    So about 1.5 years ago, I had a relatively stable 65 gallon very standard system.
    A few fish. Obligatory Nemo. A few miserable mushrooms and Zoos. Nothing fancy.
    A tiny sump, with a little skimmer. Simple CF lighting.
    You know, your typical entry level system. A bit above a fish-only-live-rock, but not much.
    BUT WHAT A PAIN.
    That little skimmer was noisy, and kept going crazy at times. Endless water changes to keep the nitrates down. Super careful feedings.
    Lots of algae scraping, although not much hair algae.
    Argh.

    So after lots of reading, I decided to emphasize the "natural" approach, with bacteria.
    I had seen some other threads at different sites on the ATS approach, but they were not complementary, so I unfortunately dismissed it.
    The concept:
    The usual aerobic bacteria convert ammonia/nitrite.
    The anaerobic bacteria in live rock and deep sand bed convert nitrate.
    And as a bouns, in anaerobic zones, the extra CO2 dissolves the aragonite, and help maintain CA/Alk.
    The way you do this is pretty simple in concept.
    Tons of live rock. Big deep sand bed. Careful control of where detritus ends up and doesn't.

    Step 1: Move sump to garage.
    20 feet of pipe, holes in the family room wall. Fun.
    Did I mention I was married. Discussions about pipes and holes in the wall ... consensus reached...
    So after putting crown moulding in the master bedroom .... Laid pipe, insulated it, etc.
    Success, sump in garage.
    Very happy to get the noise out of the family room.
    BTW: You would think a 3 car garage with 1 car in it would have a lot of room for fish equipment. Hmm, you would be wrong.
    Can't blame the wife for that either.

    Step 2: The primary sump/settling tank.
    So I built a big 75 gallon primary sump.
    Build a big 4 foot high wooden box. Very strong of course. Used pond liner to seal it. Added 1.5" of insulation, on all sides, top/bottom.
    A bit of an issue sealing the pond liner to the bulkhead, but otherwise worked great. Super cheap.
    This is bare bottom. The overflow dumps into this sump, and detritus settles out on the bottom, deliberately.
    Also had a coarse screen for catching leftover food and large items.

    Step 3: The Deep sand bed sump.
    Built another smaller box, this time acrylic, for the RSDB (remote deep sand bed)
    About 2 square feet, with 8" of sand in it.
    Also holds about 30 gallons.
    Filled to 8" with oolitic aragonite.
    Special baffling to make sure water flow over sand bed is fairly high. Don't want detritus settling there.

    Step 4: Final sump and filter.
    Another 20 gallon box. This one varies in water height, and functions as a normal sump.
    Nothing special there.

    Step 5: Lots of live rock.
    100 pounds of it. Added to about 50 pounds already in the main display.
    Well, dead rock. Bought from Marcorocks. Way cheaper.
    Since this was my second time, I planned for the usual shipping delays and lots of soaking to deal with excess phosphates.
    Of course, it came early, and had obviously been soaking for a while prior to shipping. Go figure.
    A couple of pieces looked great and ended up in the main tank.
    The rock was mostly added to the big 75 gallon primary sump. Deliberately kept dark. Don't want things growing there.
    A bit here and there in other sumps as well, to fit more, and to keep bubbles down.

    So a 65 gallon moderately loaded tank. Connected to about 120 gallons of sump.
    With about 150 pounds of live rock. With a big deep remote sand bed.

    Success!!
    Once connected, my nitrates plummeted. From 50+, to unreadable. Only took a few weeks.
    Turned off skimmer. Way fewer water changes. Less additives.
    Almsot no algae scraping. No algae growth.
    Almost zero maintenance.
    Simply amazing.

    ------

    Ahh, if only I had left well enough alone.
    But no ... I wanted real corals.
    And those simple CF lights, not nearly enough.
    So I put some real reef lighting in.
    DIY of course. Combination of LED and T5 with great reflectors.
    Worked great. Super bright, all set for coral. Yeah!

    Two weeks later : ALGAE. Nooooooooooo.
    Those great lights were great for algae as well.
    Lots of hair algae, lots of bubble algae.
    Still no nitrate or phosphates though.

    What happened was simple:
    With the old crummy lighting, the bacteria could out-compete the algae.
    With the new lighting, the war changed, and the algae out-compete the bacteria.
    So now I had a nice ATS in the main tank.

    So added Cheato and lighting to one sump. A mess. I tried vodka dosing. Kinda worked, but a big hassle, and risky.
    I added back a newer better protein skimmer. Cut way back on feeding. Upped water changes.
    Kinda worked, but back where I was before, with a big PAIN.
    So here I am getting an ATS working.

    Bacteria scrubbing is a really cool concept.
    And if you plan a dimly lit FOWLR system, might be viable.
    But not for a real reef.













    Reasonably happy.

    scrubber.

  2. #2
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    Wow.

  3. #3
    spideybry's Avatar
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    Cool read. Hopefully things work out and your ATS does a good job of keeping your system clean

  4. #4
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    I would have to agree with your idea. It is working for me as well. I feed a lot of food and intend on feeding much more. Therefore I over built capacity for nitrate control. What happened for me was that the nitrates stayed down and my ATS stopped growing Algae.

    I have a 130 gallon main tank. On top of it is a 48 by 6 inch screen, single sided dump bucket style scrubber. It worked very well for many years but things are different now. My tank parameters are still good but no algae export.

    OK, what I have in the garage is a 55 gallon sump. I only have 2 gallons of water flowing through the sump per day. It has about 8 inches of sand in it but the rest is full, to the rim with coral rubble from CaribSea but is not offered for sale. The pieces are very porous but look like concrete and are less than fist sized.

    The dump bucket is great for a splash every 20 or 30 seconds, depending on how I set it. This gives me all the air exchange that I need but it appears that I am going both skimmerless and ATS'less. :lol:

  5. #5
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    Where is the export?

  6. #6
    herring_fish's Avatar
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    That is a very good question but I don't have a good answer. I have no clue. I don't do water changes.

  7. #7
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    Well if you are still cleaning the scrubber, then that is it. Might not seem like a lot, but it should handle 2 or 3 cubes a day.

  8. #8
    herring_fish's Avatar
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    No, I'm not doing anything but cleaning the glass. I have had a fist sizes piece of cheato in there since the regular algae stopped growing. It is just there for insurance but it hasn't grown or died. I just don;t get it. With all of the feeding, something should get. Hmmmmm?????

  9. #9
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    Well then the N is being handled by the rocks, and the P is building up in the rocks and sand. It will eventually fill up and nuisance algae will develop.

  10. #10
    herring_fish's Avatar
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    Re: bacteria only scrubber

    That is a long held theory. The Deep Sand Bed Bomb. I have not heard of that actually coming to fruition but if it does, it will show in the testing. Hopefully, at that point, the ATS will start to produce export. If that is not good enough, I can just yank out the rubble and replace it. Most predictions allude to 8 years of sequestration. If I get several years then great.

    On the other hand, I would feel safer if I had exports on a continues basses. My expectation is that when I increase the feeding, once I bring the plankton towers on line, the ATS will have something to work on.

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