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Old 12/15/2017, 01:46 PM   #1
OzIA
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Automatic Biomass Scrubber

Let me first say, this is a project journal. My goal is the sharing of concepts and results. Second, I admit to being a home-built tech junky. This build will be complex and time consuming. Itís not my intent to guide anyone else down this path.

As with most projects, this is built on the foundations laid by others. I have always been intrigued by the concept of natural biological filtration systems and I have been attracted to vodka dosing concepts since reading about it some years ago. More recently, I got into a couple of threads on Reef Central: Donovanís Nitrate Destroyer and Nutrient Pulse Reactor DIY DyMiCo system. Just as a recap, these previously mentioned threads utilize organic carbon / vodka dosing into a specially designed reactor.

Most of the working theories available on organic carbon dosing go something like this:
Vodka, sugar, vinegar or some form of organic carbon is dosed into the system to cause bacteria populations to grow exponentially. As bacteria increase exponentially in deep sand beds or inside the surface of live rock, they deplete oxygen and start to consume nitrate to complete their biological processes. The threads above differ from standard vodka dosing by providing an alternate and specific area for this low oxygen condition to occur.

I have been running several variations of the Nutrient Pulse Reactor on a couple of tanks. The difficulty, long term, is keeping the bacteria mat (slime) in check. When I got too aggressive with the organic carbon dosing, the system would eventually clog up and stop functioning properly. Reading Donovanís post, I saw some of the same issues as others tried to implement his system.

Outside of the difficult balancing act, there can be no doubt that these systems work. They will outperform any algae turf scrubber or refugium when it comes to nitrate and phosphate reduction. However, in order to achieve the desirable low nutrient targets, requires either more reactor volume than I have available or more organic carbon than could be dosed, long term. The best balance I could achieve was a system that cycled stably but never reached low nutrient status. Nitrate would hover around 4.0 ppm and phosphate at around .016. When I tried to drive them lower by increasing the carbon dose, the system would clog within weeks.

Consistent / uniform dosing proved to be an issue as well. Every low volume peristaltic pump I tried, even homemade units, didnít perform consistently at anything less than 1 full revolution of the pump. There were always dead spots. This meant that I was diluting the organic carbon so that I could get at least a full revolution on the pump. The catch there is that when you dilute vodka too much, eventually the bacteria creeps into the dilution and consumes the carbon source. This changes the potency, again affecting consistent operation. I even tried vinegar since it is much less potent than vodka but still had to dilute the mix and eventually ended up with bacteria slime and reduced potency in the carbon source.

On one such occurrence, I noticed the system was floundering (not cycling normally). I found slime in the bottom of my carbon source. I cleaned the bottle and mixed up a new batch. Then, I turned on the pump to prime the system and got side tracked. When I finally noticed, I had dumped almost a weekís worth of carbon into the system. It took about half a day to clear the reactor of the massive dose. The tank suffered no apparent ill effects, other than a little cloudiness but the nitrate went from a consistent 4.0 ppm to 0.25. Phosphate went all the way down to .01 to .02 ppm, from 0.16. All this happened in less than 12 hours. I turned off the carbon dosing and let the system self flush for a few days before starting things back up. My point is to show the potential for affecting these nutrient levels with this method but the following reading, two days later, was also interesting. With the system running a flush cycle every few minutes and no additional carbon going in; the next reading showed. nitrate at 0.5 ppm but phosphate had rebounded to 0.1. This leads me to believe two things.

1. Nitrate is being exported from the system, probably as the theory suggests, as nitrogen gas.
2. Phosphate is not being exported but is being bound up within the increased bacterial population.

If phosphate were actually exported it would build back more slowly when the system was inactive. Since the nitrate was exported from the water, it was building back slowly, as food was added and cycled within the system but phosphate was quickly released back into the water as the bacteria population changed suddenly when I stopped dosing carbon. In fact, I ran a crude test on some of the bacterial slime, adding about 1 to 2 ml to RO water and using the same Red Sea tests and found high levels of both nitrate and phosphate, ten to twenty times higher than the tank water. I also believe that this also may be tied to the theory that live rock can absorb or leach phosphate. Possibly this phenomenon is really related to the bacterial populations within the rock changing. One more point to add is that most vodka dosing regiments require a good skimmer for final nutrient export. The exception is the DiMiCo system, although they do recommend GFO.

So, I decided to try the third upgrade of my homemade sump to test the feasibility of periodically removing the bio-mat and actually export phosphate while driving the system to itís full potential. I'm calling it the Automatic Biomass Scrubber or ABS for short.

First a little historical perspective...

My first sump was a homemade dual refugium with a central protein skimmer. It was 43 X 23 X 19 (external dimensions) and was my first real attempt at sump construction. Each side had a 2Ē sand bed, planted with caulerpa prolifera. Both sides wound around a baffle to the skimmer chamber and then to the dual return pumps.

The main mistake I made with this system was to place filter sponges in such a way that there was no way for water to flow around or over them when they became clogged. This drove water levels up in the proceeding chambers and required constant attention.

About that time the Roller Mat came out on the US market. I was really ready to get rid of the need to constantly attend to sponges and filter pads and this seemed like the way to go. Of course, I didnít want their prefabricated version, because I thought, yeah, I can do that and I can incorporate it into the sump the way I want it.

Again, I had the outer ďboxĒ of the sump built by a local plastics company due to the size and concern over leaks. I always do this. I am just not set up, with the tools and jigs to handle the long seams without leak concerns. I had the new box built with ľ in plexiglass, again keeping with relatively the same footprint (43 X 23). I went an inch shorter on the depth this time, to only 18 inches deep. I decided, with all the internal baffles and bracing, I did not need to have anything thicker than ľ. This sump has been up and running for a couple of years now without issue. The primary method of nutrient export was a sand bed in four stacked trays under an algae turf scrubber. I also have a Reef Octopus protein skimmer. The continuous felt changer was between the ATS and skimmer.

This system ran for about a year prior to my interest in the system described in the Nutrient Pulse Reactor post.

This new ABS system will be composed of 4 primary components:

Remote Deep Sand Bed
Bio Reactor with motorized agitation
Rotating Chaeto Reactor / Refugium
Continuous Felt Changer

The first thing to keep in mind is: this ABS side is not operated as a continuous-flow system. This means water does not flow through this section continuously. It is a batching system. Water is pumped into the system, carbon is dosed and then a wait period allows for the reaction to occur. ORP is used to determine when the process is complete and then another batch is processed. This was the primary reason for combining the chaeto refugium; to have a parallel section with continuous flow. The chaeto will also hopefully increase the pH as well.

Iím trying to reuse as many pre-existing components as possible. For example, I removed the baffles and structures from my original (ver 1) 43x23x19 sump and will build the new components into this box. Also, the Remote Deep Sand Bed will be constructed from a 24x24x6 box, from a previous project. This box is vertical so it is 24 inches deep and long but only 6 inches wide. It will fit above the sump, between the back of the tank and the wall.

Locating the DSB away from the Bio Reactor solves two problems. First, it provides for fluid separation between the sand bed and Bio Reactor and itís carbon source. I had issues with other versions of this system due to the close proximity of the two. Organic carbon would migrate into the sand bed and the resulting bio mat would quickly clog it. Secondly, locating the DSB away from the Bio Reactor gave me more reactor space and allows me to reuse these existing boxes. The sand bed will also need to be layered with a plenum space between the three sand layers. I added a bottom panel, resting on two 3/8 inch supports with ľ inch holes and a baffle on one end. A shower-head cover will diffuse the force of each cycle, preventing the sand from being disturbed. Iíve used this concept before to diffuse the water into a compartment. It works well.

Each cycle or batch of water will then be directed down through each layer, exiting through the bottom panel and out the side, on itís way to the bio-reactor. The concept here is to provide a place for nitrification to take place prior to being pushed to the bio-reactor for de-nitrification. Then on a weekly basis, I will turn on the rotating arms in the bio reactor and flush out any loosely attached bacterial slime into the CFC for removal. The CFC will also capture and remove and loose pieces of cheato.


Attached Images
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File Type: jpg Version 2.jpg (33.6 KB, 76 views)
File Type: jpg Version 3 Concept.jpg (41.3 KB, 78 views)
File Type: png Deep Sand Bed (remote).png (61.7 KB, 79 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_0091.jpg (54.1 KB, 98 views)
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Old 12/16/2017, 07:29 AM   #2
rocsec1
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Old 12/16/2017, 08:22 AM   #3
djbon
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Interesting!. I am still using my Donovan's nitrate destroyer for full 2 years now without any problem. Yes, clogging is an issue when nitrate is abundant, but easily dealt with less vodka. I am no longer emphasizing pumice stones usage, that will solve clogging issue permanently (non issue to me as I purposely clogged my reactor once in a while to provoke bacteria population).

I am on a complete nutrients recycling for several months (no skimmer) now. I am using cryptic zones, live oysters and activated carbon in my sump. Other filter feeders and sponges is acting as filter socks.

I haven't test NO3/PO4 in months but judging from my tank I think it is within range.

Definitely following your build, there is a lot of things to learn. Can't wait!


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Old 12/16/2017, 06:12 PM   #4
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Seems way too complicated. On my 300 I have 2 filter socks I clean weakly, a modified ASM G4 skimmer, and a Refugium with macro algae. When I started getting some GHA I added A simple alge turf scrubber with a little vinegar and iron dosing. It was all I needed to drop my nitrate and phosphate to almost zero. I stoped dosing vinegar dosing a few months back so nitrate would climb a little. I only dose 5 ml of iron once a week or so now. I also cut back on the lighting on my ATS to 8 hours a day from 24 originally. For my ATS I just put a piece of roughened mesh in the overflow and lit it with a Chinese red & blue led grow light. I have never had my nitrates and phosphates as low in any other tank I have currently.
I have 25 fish including 4 large fish( my sail fin tank is dinner plate sized). I feed heavily, and do not have any other reactors.


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Old 12/16/2017, 09:29 PM   #5
OzIA
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Update

I made good progress. I cleaned out the old sump body (cleaner than it was) and removed the remaining old baffles and compartments. I had taken most out earlier, so there were only a few left. Then, I started cutting and assembling the parts for the bioreactor area.

I am using a clam-shell design that I have used before. I will cut 8 ribs (4 on each half) that will support 1/16 inch polycarbonate shell with 3/8 inch holes. Iíve used this method before and it works well; providing a consistent round curve that is very sturdy after welding. Counting back, I cut and installed over 50 individual plastic pieces to build this section. It can be slow at times. Since I donít have detailed drawings, just a concept in my mind, I periodically I must stop and try to visualize how everything must be assembled. Iím trying not to make mistakes I canít recover from. This means a lot of dry-fitting and pre-assembly prior to welding.

This compartment, which consumes 16 inches of the right side of the box; contains an 18 X 14 cylinder, in two halves, which should hold about 12 gallons of bio-balls. I have installed a center distribution pipe that also has 3 arms (spaced at even intervals) to stir the bio-balls. A syncra-silent 1.5 pump will provide circulation within the reactor. This is necessary to ensure the carbon dose is distributed evenly. I made the compartment big enough for a 2.0 if the flow provided by the 1.5 isnít sufficient. I also had to make sure I could access and service the pump. The plan is to have a motor with a pulley drive the stirring system for about 15 minutes, once a week. This should break up the bacteria bio mat, which will then be collected and removed by the CFC (continuous felt changer). The big unknown here is how much force will be needed to stir, without getting stuck or breaking the agitator. I plan on using round bioballs that float. Iím hoping this will minimize the torque required. Iím using belts for two reasons. I have access to some and I needed a way to drive a system that will be underwater. Since I cannot get the motor wet, this seemed like the best solution. If I had the ability to make a large spur gear system, that would probably have been my preference but I donít have a 3D printer and I have never seen plastic gears, as large as I would need, for sale.

I also completed the DSB by patching up the old outlet area and adding the main baffle and bottom panel. The box was 6 inches (ID) constructed from 3/8 acrylic. I drilled ľ holes in the bottom panel and installed a new 1 ľ inch outlet on the side. I also built the showerhead that will diffuse the water going into the DSB. I also added a reinforcement brace in the middle to help with the pressure from the sand and water.

Pictures attached below:
Ribs, shaped by router.
Bottom clam-shell with top ribs dry fit.
Both clam-shells assembled with distribution pipe and arms dry assembled.
View of the bottom 1/16 shell dry fit.
DSB with plenum separators.

At this point, I will probably stop and complete this bio-reactor section later. I want to at least, dry-assemble all the components first. This allows me to confirm the entire layout and gives me the ability to make some modifications, if necessary. Seeing the rest of the components in position usually give me a better perspective. I will work on the paddle wheel for the CFC next.


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Old 12/17/2017, 11:06 AM   #6
OzIA
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Djbon:
Thanks for the input / update and your original post.

It appears one of the major differences between the system you build and the Nutrient Pulse, is the batching vs continuous low flow used by your system.

The biomass buildup definitely impacts the batching systems more. Although the flow through the biofilm decreases as the population increases, it doesnít seem to completely clog. Iíve read several articles about biofilm and the bacteria seem to work together to keep paths open for water flow. Itís just not enough flow for these batching systems, I guess.

A couple of questions:

1 Are you still doing water changes? If so how often? I was wondering, with the skimmer off, how phosphate was being exported?
2 You mentioned that clogging is an issue when nitrate is abundant and you dealt with that by reducing the carbon source. Given that the amount of carbon seems to be linked to the reduction capability of these systems, how did you deal with the increased nitrate?

Laverda:
You are right; it is way too complicated. Öglad your system works so well for you.


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Old 12/17/2017, 09:06 PM   #7
djbon
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As mentioned above, nutrient recycling and conversion to bio mass reduces testable no3/po4. I do have a 2' algae through made from cut out 4" diameter PVC pipe to grow some algae. I don't remove the algae, I fed my tangs (except dragon breath which they don't seems interested at). No water changes since I started 4 years ago.

My daily dosing is more than enough to keep nitrate below 5ppm. Two doses, between 2ml and 5ml depending on visible flow coming out from the reactor. I purposely doing overdosing once in while, everytime I did this the flow will slow down significantly and will strip nitrate to zero. I never experienced nitrate build up, except on several occassion where I added my chromis (7 of them) and anthiases (killed by my dragon wrasse) which I overfed the tank. I remember at one time nitrate shoots up to 20ppm, but quickly brought down below 5ppm with additional vodka dosing for few days.

My reactor is quite dynamic, once you know how it works and how well it react to changes you made, fine tuning it's effectiveness is very simple.


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Old 12/19/2017, 11:34 PM   #8
OzIA
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Cfc

I completed the paddle wheel for the CFC. This component is probably the most time consuming and tedious piece to construct. I made this one clear so I could see into it better. I had a snail get stuck in this section on the version two sump so this should allow me to see better if that happens again.

The two ľ X 13 inch disks are connected by (41) 5.75 X ĺ inch pieces set one inch apart. This forms the 6.25 inch wide support for the Roller Mat felt. Two 1/8 X 13.25 disks are attached on the outside as guides and to seal things up. This should give me over 200 square inches of filter surface area at full contact. Running depth in this compartment will be about 13 inches with the wheel about a half-inch off the bottom.

I also removed a lot of material in the ľ sides by drilling holes, to reduce the weight. This was a lot of extra work and Iím not sure I would do it that way again. In the end, it did reduce the weight by a pound, overall. This wheel is 13.25 inches in diameter and 6.5 inches wide. It weighs in at 3.55 lbs. It is constructed of almost 50 pieces of acrylic and polycarbonate. There were over 35 holes drilled as well.


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Old 12/22/2017, 09:30 PM   #9
OzIA
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Update

After completing the wheel for the CFC, I decided to change the original design / configuration. This new layout (turned 90 deg) allows me to place all of the systems in a better position to be visually monitored. I had to recut one of the outer 13.25 disks. I originally cut it in an opaque white acrylic but after I changed the configuration, I made it entirely clear. Luckily, I hadnít welded the outer disks. I am also thinking of relocating the process pump into the upper half of the bio-reactor. This would allow for easier access to the process pump and would simplify the design by eliminating the access door but Iíve not fully committed to the concept yet.

I found a concerning crack near the bond line in the front right of the sump. I have made repairs but Iím still concerned. I will definitely do a prolonged water test before installing it. Maybe it wasnít the best idea to use the old sump box, given the critical nature of a failure.

The change in design cost me some volume on the cheato reactor (about an inch in width but consolidating the flow path in front, where it can be visually monitored, will be better in the long run. This also places all of the plumbing out of the way, in the back of the sump.

The chaeto reactor will have four 15 watt pucks. I purchased 90 mm aluminum disks / circuit boards on eBay. They work pretty well. I use eight 660 nm (red) with five 460 nm (blue) and two 10K white LEDs per puck. They are powered by two 650 mw constant current power supplies (one for two pucks in parallel). I have used this configuration before and it seems to mimic most of the LED grow bulbs on the market which have strong peaks in the blue and red spectrum.

The LEDs must be force-air cooled, which means a small fan. Without it they heat up to almost 150 deg F. Anything above 95 and the LEDs start to lose their intensity. The losses can become significant at the higher temps. It only requires a little air movement to keep them relatively cool.

I prefer to have the chaeto tumble constantly. I have used several methods to ensure this, from pumps to channeling the in-flow into a circular motion with vanes and baffles. The pumps work really well but requires some attention. This build will utilize a guide vane that will channel the water from the overflow down and under the chaeto. At the end of the refugium, water will be redirected up and across the surface by an air-stone and vane. Hopefully this will provide enough circular motion to keep the ball of chaeto tumbling and also provide some additional gas exchange to increase the pH.

This will be the last post until Iím through the holidays. Cheers!


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Old 01/02/2018, 04:39 PM   #10
OzIA
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I finally moved back to the drive system for the Bio-Reactorís agitation arm. I guess Iíve been avoiding spending the time on it because of the tedium but it is a very critical component and I need to see if it will work as designed. Itís also very cold, which means I have less desire to spend time in the garage.

I am using ribbed Kevlar belts from the food processing industry. One longer belt (the wet belt) will be used to drive the main pulley, attached to the arm. This belt will be mostly under water all the time. I am using a second ďdryĒ belt to separate the moisture from the motor and also to extend the motor above the sump. This will help prevent the motor from getting salt water in it, regardless of how high the water level gets. Hopefully, the use of two belts will also prevent moisture from getting on the drive shaft, which is metal. I constructed the box for the motor, which is a 12 v 6 rpm geared setup. The shaft is the only thing that is exposed and most of it is in the first pully. Again, I got it off eBay. They claimed it was a ďhigh torqueĒ 80KG / cm motor. It seems to live up to that billing. It uses about Ĺ an amp, no load but jumps up to 2 amps with me trying to stop it. It seems like it will do the job.

The main drive pulley is cut from two 3/8 plexi disks welded together. The wet belt is just over 5/8 inches wide. I cut two 3/8 inch disks with a 4Ē hole saw and welded them together. I then cut groves or slots about 1/8 inch deep into the welded disk with a table saw. These groves will line up with the ribs on the belts. This is very tedious: Turn the saw on, make a pass over the blade, turn the disk slightly and repeat. I then added 1/16Ē poly-carbonate disks on the outside as guides. This process was repeated for all three pulleys. I cut 16 circles out to make all of them and that was just counting the final product. I also had several mistakes and remakes. It took a long time.

The final reduction was only 3 to 1 instead of 6 to 1 so my arms turn at 2 RPM and not the 1 RPM I had planned for. I just didnít feel comfortable cutting the small pulleys any smaller and I didnít have enough belt to make the big ones larger and keep the motor out of the water. Itís still pretty slow and the motor seems to have plenty of torque. Iím going to fill the reactor with dry bio-balls and test it out next. I am also thinking I need a tensioner on the larger wet belt.


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File Type: jpg Belt& Pulley.jpg (67.6 KB, 32 views)
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Old 01/09/2018, 05:26 PM   #11
OzIA
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Update

I ran my first dry test with 800 bioballs and the results were less than spectacular. Things moved OK at first and then began to tighten up after a few minutes. I opened things back up and found that the balls seemed to be ďbondingĒ to each other, like atoms forming a molecule. First they would pair up but when they locked the third ball into their ďmoleculeĒ things really got tight. They became very dense and difficult to drive around the system. The belts started slipping and the motor labored. The bad thing is that the 800 bioballs barely filled about 1/3 of the cylinder. That means I will need about 2400 to completely fill it. Iím going to move on to the water test in the hope that the load will dramatically decrease once they start to float.


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Old 01/09/2018, 08:42 PM   #12
OzIA
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Water Test

For the water test, I started out with just enough water to float the balls. Everything moved without issue or excessive load. I then added 800 more balls and put in enough water to allow them to float slightly. Again, no excessive load was perceived. Although the balls still clumped together after some time, they didnít stick as tightly as they had when I ran the dry test. It appears that the more force applied to moving them translates into a tighter more compact molecule. I guess itís sort of a run-away reaction or action. I have a short video but Iím not sure how to link that in. The attachments seem to be limited to pictures, probably due to size.

I also donít have any more balls to test with. The other 800 are being used in one of the other test systems. When the time comes to install the new filter, I will removed and rinse those and add them to the other 1600 to complete the bioreactor. Hopefully this will give me a head start on growing the biofilm throughout the reactor.

Iíve thought about modifying the ball structure to prevent them from bonding to each other. I think I can do this by melting the open ends just a little bit by touching them to something hot but that would require a lot of effort. Ėtwo sides times 2400 balls, ugh.

I also took the first water sample and sent it off to Triton. Iím fairly confident that I can remove the nitrate without water changes. My hope is to also remove the phosphate without the need for a GFO or Lanthanum Chloride reactor. Also, I hope to understand what trace elements are removed by running the ABS vs just the chaeto system over the next year or so. Iím also hoping that there will be increased biodiversity and plankton food sources will be present. This is one of the claimed benefits of the DyMiCo system.

I need to work on the bubble diffusers and some of the other plumbing and flow components. I also need to complete the drive system for the CFC. I have been going back and forth between a direct drive system, another belt driven system and a gear driven system that I have used in the past.

The gear driven system would be easiest. Itís a ďknown animalĒ but Iím out of large nylon gears so I would need to reuse ones from one of my previous systems or find more gears. Iím really moving away from the direct drive system because Iím thinking that if something gets stuck, as it occasionally does, breakage will occur. Right now with the belt drive or the gears, there is enough play to allow them to slip rather than break so Iím focused in that direction.


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