jlanger's Algae Turf Scrubber Build and Documention

Discussion in 'DIY Forums' started by jlanger, Dec 19, 2016.

  1. jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    I thought I would create a new build thread documenting my DIY Algae Turf Scrubber.
    Even though it's just one piece of equipment, there was quite a bit of planning, designing and testing before I finished the final project.

    Background:
    It's been well documented in my build thread that my reef system has had issues with high nutrient levels. I've attacked the issue from many angles from carbon dosing (NO-POX), supplemental biological filtration (ceramic media blocks) and replacing my initial/aged sand bed. With varying success on each of those methods, the nutrient levels still had a way of rising back to unacceptable levels. Why?
    My latest theory is that my system is overstocked; and has been for a long time. I don't overfeed my fish, by any means. I strictly feed frozen foods on a daily basis and small sheets of nori once or twice a week. I thaw the frozen foods in tank water and add the mixture directly to the tank; no rinsing. I believe that rinsing the food removes much of what the corals could consume as a food supply. I've created a problem that my filtration system couldn't handle.
    I've been a huge advocate for using a protein skimmer as a way to remove organics from the water. My skimmer does an amazing job at creating a dark, thick and pungent skimmate. Even though the skimmer is rated for a tank my size, I now realize that it isn't capable of keeping up with my bio-load. I briefly looked into upgrading to a larger skimmer, but with the number of hobbyists turning to an algae scrubber for nutrient removal, I thought I would give it a try.
    Researching and reading through the ATS threads by David, Gary, Tim, William and many others gave me the information and decision to make my own algae turf scrubber.

    Criteria:
    Since I have the burdening need to make everything look and function perfectly, I needed to figure out just how I was going to add an ATS to my system
    I made a list of criteria that the scrubber had to meet.
    • The ATS needed to fit inside my sump and stand.
    • The ATS would need to sit above the sump to avoid getting submerged during water changes or power failures.
    • The ATS needed to be easily maintained and cleaned.
    • The ATS needed to work.

    Conflicts:
    Meeting the initial criteria was an easy task, but there were a handful of conflicts that I needed to consider before designing the ATS.
    • Very limited size and location inside my sump and stand; without replumbing my system.
    • Minimal LED light spillage from the ATS.
    • ATS screen removal and maintenance.

    Design process:
    I really wanted to have a two light system so that both sides of the screen were lit, but I didn't have the room so it was going to be a single LED fixture.
    Since I couldn't remove the screen from the top of the ATS, I knew it had to be removed from the one end. In doing so, I knew that I had to have a way to prevent the water from pouring out the opening. My solution was to make a clear box that housed the screen; it's like a drawer that can be removed from a cabinet. And I still wanted the top of the ATS to be removable as I would need access to the plumbing and LED fixture.
    To keep the ATS above the water in the sump, I designed the box to sit on the inside lip of the frame of the 40BR sump. I don't have to worry about the ATS falling into the sump as there is only a 1/16" gap between the ATS and the frame of the sump. The ATS fits well enough that it doesn't move much after being installed.
    I ordered my LED fixture (300w Dimmable Grow Light) before I started designing the interior of the ATS. I needed to know exactly the size of the fixture and the area of the LED array. I designed the interior screen box to maximize the amount of area the LED fixture could light while keeping it confined into the limits of the ATS box. And I also needed to know just how much venting and access I needed for the LED fixture.
    To protect the light from any contact with the water, I have a partition inside the box that has a clear polycarbonate window sized to the light.
    To keep the light spill to a minimum, I used black polycarbonate to enclose everything. And to keep the LED fixture cool, I needed vents to allow air circulation in the lighting chamber.
    I wanted to have the ATS feed pump pull water from one chamber of the sump as I didn't want the pump to recycle any water that just passed through the ATS. And I wanted the drain to empty into my media basket with filter floss so that any loose pieces of algae where caught before entering the return chamber and pumped into the display.
    I scribbled some rough sketches before drawing up my plans in Illustrator so I could get my dimensions and layout just right. Once the ATS design met my requirements, I moved onto the build process.

    Build process:
    I drafted all of the individual pieces in AlphaCAD and then used the CNC router to machine them all. The panels include rabbets/dadoes for all of the joints; I don't like relying on just butt-joints for my projects.
    I used ¼" polycarbonate for all of the pieces; black and clear. I think there is a total of 18 pieces that make the ATS box and the removable screen drawer.
    I first made prototypes of the boxes out of clear polycarbonate so that could see how everything was going to fit and work before I machined the final project. And I practiced my bonding skills during this step! I was also able to plan and cut my plumbing pieces at this time.
    The most difficult part of this ATS design was figuring out how to have the screen be removable yet still be positioned to receive adequate water flow. My solution was to have the screen be held in place by tabs on the lid for the screen box. The screen extends above the top of the box and just makes contact with the spray bar.
    There were a couple of changes made from the original design before I would machine the final project. I moved the holes for the water supply and water drain. I extended the interior screen box to maximize the usable interior space as it "pushed " the screen further back into the ATS box.
    I picked up the black and clear polycarbonate, machined the parts and assembled the ATS boxes over the course of a weekend. Once finished, I set up the ATS on an old tank, I hooked up the pump and plumbing and tested the spray bar. I tried a straight slot, a tapered slot, a combination width slot and a drilled spray bar. I found the drilled spray bar to be the most effective.

    The final project:
    Here's some of the pictures I took of the ATS after final assembly.

    The LED fixture side view; drawer closed.
    There are three openings to allow the cooling of the fixture. There is barely any light spill coming from the vents at all.
    [​IMG]
    [URL='http://s32.photobucket.com/user/jason_langer/media/A%20Stand%20and%20Canopy%20Done%20Wright/ATS-Dry-LEDSide.jpg.html'][/URL]

    The LED fixture side view; drawer open, LEDs off.
    [​IMG]


    The LED fixture side view; drawer open, LEDs on.
    [​IMG]

    Top-down view; top removed.
    [​IMG]

    Drilled spray bar in use.
    [​IMG]

    Being satisfied with how it was running, it was time to fit it into my stand and sump.
    [​IMG]

    As you can see, there's not much wiggle room inside the stand. The ATS fits just between the power strip and the return plumbing. The drawer to the ATS fits just under the top rails of the stand and are just above the frame of the sump. When I need to remove the entire ATS, I need to disconnect the water supply tubing and the drain plumbing. As the ATS slides out of the stand, I just have to tip the ATS to allow the bulkheads to clear the sump.

    Operation and maintenance:
    I seeded the algae screen with some algae from David. To prepare the screen, I used a hole saw bit to scour both sides of the plastic mesh. I applied just enough algae to the screen to see how well the algae stayed on the screen. Satisfied with the initial seeding, I let the ATS go to work.
    [​IMG]

    When I need to harvest the algae, I turn off the water supply pump and slide out the screen drawer. The screen box is made so that it holds the algae and any water inside so that it doesn't drip all over the place. I take the lid off the screen box along with the screen covered in algae. I scrape the algae off the screen and place it back onto the screen box. Slide it back into the ATS, turn on the water supply pump and it's back in business; very quick, very clean and very easy.

    Initial thoughts:
    I like it.
    I think I was able to create an algae turf scrubber that addressed my criteria, resolved my conflicts and met my expectations.
    Aesthetically and physically, it passes. Now, it's time to see how well it does functionally.

    I plan on keeping this thread updated with how the filter performs and if I do any changes or modifications.
    Any feedback, questions and thoughts are encouraged.
    Thanks for reading and following along.
     
    #1 jlanger, Dec 19, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2017
    • Informative Informative x 1
  2. OP
    jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    The Seeding Phase:

    I let the algae grow for the first three weeks mostly uninterrupted to see how well it would grow. The initial harvest yielded about ½ cup of algae. The screen itself was completely covered so I know that I'm getting enough water coverage from the spray bar. There didn't appear to be any burn out from the LEDs so I know the lighting is at least adequate but not too powerful. The LEDs are on the lowest setting, but are still very bright.

    I did need to make a slight modification to the algae box lid as any water that didn't go into the box ran down the seam and would drip through the door causing some leaking issues. I knew going in that this would be a possible issue, but I couldn't really know until the filter was in operation. The modification helped, but it doesn't eliminate the potential for more occurrences. Other than that, I'm pleased with the filter so far.
    I have noticed that a small patch of bubble algae that had been growing inside a birds nest coral has collapsed and died away. If that's a sign that the ATS is competing for nutrients, I hope so but it just may be coincidental.

    As far as nutrients are concerned, my nitrates and phosphates are holding steady at this time. The numbers are elevated, but I discontinued the dosing of NO-POX when I started the ATS. I expected the nitrates to rise before the ATS could help bring them down. Time will tell when the ATS starts to make an impact.

    The Growing Phase:
    Okay...
    If seeing is believing, I'm a believer.
    Algae turf scrubbers are amazing!
    Now, I just need some verification that it's working when I see the results from my water tests in a few weeks.

    During my last water change on Friday, December 9th, I scraped my algae screen and collected about ½ cup of a nice thick dark green algae.

    December 13th, 2016.

    Tonight, I decided to take a peek inside the ATS to make sure all was running well. It was better than well. The screen was completely covered in algae and needed to be scraped again. In a matter of four days, I collected another 2/3 cup of the thick dark green algae. The algae was a dense mat that easily pulled off the screen; maybe too well. But if this is any indication how my ATS is going to operate for the time being, I'm one happy reefer.

    For documentation, here's the cup from this harvest; 2/3 cup.

    [​IMG]

    Photo of the algae to show the color and texture.
    Next time, I'll take a photo of the algae still on the screen for further reference.

    [​IMG]

    And here's the cleaned screen as of Tuesday, December 13th.

    [​IMG]

    Other information:
    Lights are on lowest dimmable setting.
    Lights are running 24 hours. (Need to get Apex back online to set up photoperiod.)
    My nitrates are just under 32ppm; again.
    I have not increased any feedings; cut back, in fact.
    I am not dosing iron.
    Still running protein skimmer.

    December 17th, 2016.

    Four days later.
    Here's a photo of the algae screen removed from the ATS prior to scraping.

    [​IMG]

    The lighter area of algae towards the bottom of the screen is where the algae starts to build up and bulge on the screen.
    Here's a photo showing how the screen looks from a side angle.

    [​IMG]

    The algae has a nice fibrous texture; almost like the black velvet posters we had as kids.
    The algae comes off the screen relatively well with an old glass scraping blade. Since the screen has been completely seeded, there isn't much algae growth on the back side; nothing really to scrape off.
    I harvested another 2/3 cups of algae in four days of operation.

    [​IMG]

    The harvest weighed in at 2.35 ounces after all water was squeezed out.
    The dry algae harvest is just that, dry algae. There really isn't any slime being produced.

    [​IMG]

    Other information:
    Lights are on lowest dimmable setting.
    Lights are running 24 hours. (Need to get Apex back online to set up photoperiod.)
    My nitrates are still just under 32ppm; again. Phosphates at 0.16ppm.
    I have not increased any feedings; cut back, in fact.
    I am not dosing iron.
    Still running protein skimmer.
     
    #2 jlanger, Dec 19, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2017
  3. David Grigor

    David Grigor TCMAS Old Timer
    Lifetime Member Event Committee

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2007
    Messages:
    16,783
    Likes Received:
    367
    Location:
    Brooklyn Center
    Fishies collected:
    67,053
    Since your not seeing any yellowing, you can start to tweak the lighting intensity. Perhaps just add 10% at a time and see if harvests increase. I've mentioned before 40% seemed to be the sweet spot for me, going higher than 40% didn't increase harvest. With nitrate levels above non-detectable you certainly have enough nutrients to grow faster and thicker ( up to 1"-1.5" thick ).
     
    #3 David Grigor, Dec 19, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2016
  4. OP
    jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    Thanks, David. I'll give that a try.

    Even thought the dial for the LED fixture has a reading from 0-100%, the switch doesn't engage to turn on the light until 10-15% on the dial. And even so, to the naked eye, the intensity of the light appears to about 40% of full power when turned all the way down. I would expect 20% to be fairly dim compared to full intensity.

    So... faster growth you say...
     
  5. David Grigor

    David Grigor TCMAS Old Timer
    Lifetime Member Event Committee

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2007
    Messages:
    16,783
    Likes Received:
    367
    Location:
    Brooklyn Center
    Fishies collected:
    67,053
    Once dialed in I think you should be able to get at least double if not triple the harvest. I've never had that high of nitrates to start with so really can't say how much or how fast the levels will go down but worst case should at least maintain.

    If you have one around, may be better to use watt meter to dial it in rather than the dial. Sounds like yours acts differently. Somewhere around or just shy of 40w on a watt meter would be a target to gradually ramp up to making sure your not getting yellowing between each iteration. Yellowing can mean iron deficieny but most times its too much light compared to flow. So you either decrease light or increase flow ( if possible ) when you start to get more yellow and rubbery like.
     
    #5 David Grigor, Dec 19, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2016
  6. livestuff

    livestuff I contributed!
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2009
    Messages:
    340
    Likes Received:
    7
    Location:
    Brooklyn Park
    Fishies collected:
    1,600
    Nice! looks good. Should work as good as it looks:dance:
    Its funny you got some seed Algae from David cause I'm going to hit him up for the GOOD stuff too :biglaugh2:
     
  7. OP
    jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    Yep, David's a good weed dealer.
    Oh crap... now we're on some Federal Watch list.
     
  8. dirtrider225

    dirtrider225 Junior Member
    TCMAS Supporter

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2015
    Messages:
    530
    Likes Received:
    30
    Location:
    Golden Valley/St Louis Park MN
    Fishies collected:
    8,046
    I mean we already have the huge electric bills as well as the fact that our lights could undoubtedly grow weed lol so id be surprised if we arent on a watch list anyways!
     
  9. marty9876

    marty9876 Banned
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2012
    Messages:
    336
    Likes Received:
    195
    Location:
    TCMAS
    Fishies collected:
    14,796
    I think you spent more time on your ATS build post than I did building my ATS.

    :)
     
    • Informative Informative x 1
  10. Fishfoo

    Fishfoo Junior Member
    TCMAS Member

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2016
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Blaine/Plymouth, MN
    Fishies collected:
    2,292
    Great write up! will definitely reference this once it's time to upgrade.
     
  11. Riley

    Riley I contributed!
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2007
    Messages:
    930
    Likes Received:
    58
    Location:
    Burnsville
    Fishies collected:
    5,618
    Nice write up, Jason! When you initially put this on line, the first thing I noticed was that you didn't need to loosen a union fitting to take the screen out for service. Your drawer is really slick.
     
  12. OP
    jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    December 21st, 2016.

    Another four day cycle.
    I haven't changed anything from the initial set up. The lighting intensity, water flow and photoperiod are the same.

    The screen directly from the ATS.

    [​IMG]

    There's a bit more algae growth this time.
    The "slimier-looking" algae at the bottom is what sits on the bottom of the screen drawer box. The algae screen itself just rests on the bottom of the drawer box. There ends up being about ½" of water that remains in the drawer during operation so the algae down there stays submerged.

    Here's a photo of the screen being scraped.
    You can somewhat see how the lower third of the screen has a thicker mass of the algae.

    [​IMG]

    This harvest yielded over ¾ cup. Getting better!

    [​IMG]

    The squeezed-dried ball of algae came in at 3.05 oz.
    Here's a photo showing the ball of dried algae; and obligatory beverage for size reference.

    [​IMG]

    I don't think that I'm going to make any changes to anything just yet. I'd like to have more of a sample of data before I start changing things; also it's the holidays and we'll be out of town for various holidays and hockey tournaments.
     
    #12 jlanger, Dec 21, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2017
  13. marty9876

    marty9876 Banned
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2012
    Messages:
    336
    Likes Received:
    195
    Location:
    TCMAS
    Fishies collected:
    14,796
    We really need to rate these things on the number of toilet flushes required to 'process' things. I'm somewhere between 4-6 flushes a cleaning on mine.
     
    • Informative Informative x 1
  14. OP
    jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    Help me out, Marty...
    Are you talking about the harvested algae or your equivocal posts?
     
  15. JELP

    JELP Senior Member
    TCMAS Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2009
    Messages:
    597
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Hudson
    Fishies collected:
    3,543
    Nice build... Makes mine look like a pinto! That aside, an ATS is by far my favorite means of nutrient export to date. Only problem is how much I need to feed to keep a measurable amount of nutrients in my tank. I'm curious to see how long it take to bring your levels down to where you want them.
     
  16. zoolan70

    zoolan70 Senior Member
    Staff Member BOD Lifetime Member Event Committee

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    3,170
    Likes Received:
    90
    Location:
    Hudson, WI
    Fishies collected:
    19,260
    Just went over to and saw this unit today....the pictures don't do it justice. Really nice work!
     
  17. OP
    jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    For consistency's sake...

    December 25th, 2016.

    Four day cycle with more of the same results.
    Screen fully covered with dark green algae; no slime.
    ¾ cup of harvested algae; 2.65 ounces dry weight.
    No water tests tonight.

    This time, I did not scrape the back of the screen.
    There's not really much algae that grows on the back, but I noticed that I "lost" more algae from the screen when I restarted the filter. If both sides get scraped, algae that is in the mesh openings may lose any attachment and get pushed out of the filter when flow is resumed. If I leave the backside of the screen untouched, maybe more algae will stay on the screen when restarted and have a quicker start at regrowth.
     
  18. OP
    jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    Back home and...

    December 31st, 2016.

    Six day cycle; almost.
    Being that we were out of town for a few days, this gave me a chance to see what a longer cycle would yield.

    [​IMG]

    With the added couple of days, the algae on the screen was thicker, but more spongy and wet; not the drier stringy type. The left end of the screen shows the more common growth that I had been getting and the lighter colored algae was less dense and more wet; not quite slimy yet.
    There was a good deal of algae at the base of the screen that detached from the screen and stayed in the drawer when I pulled the screen out. The bottom inch or so of the screen shows evidence of where that algae was growing.

    The harvest yielded another good ¾ cup of algae; dry weight of 2.55 ounces.
    I was expecting more.

    [​IMG]

    The one new thing that I noticed with this harvest was that the water that squeezed out from the algae ball was now dirty. In previous harvests, the water from the algae was mostly clear. When I scraped the algae off of the screen, I noticed that there was a rusty colored cellular algae present in the water; no photo. When I squeezed the water from the algae ball, it was dark green. Not sure if this is a natural progression of different algae becoming present on the filter, but it is definitely noticeable.

    [​IMG]

    As far as noticeable differences, I have noticed patches of a slightly green color appearing in places on the sand bed; similar to David's blog post. It's not like any of the nuisance algae or bacteria, just a green sheen on top of the sand.

    As far as unnoticeable differences, the nutrient levels are staying consistent; no dropping in test results.
    Nitrates near 32ppm. Phosphates near 0.16ppm.
    I still consider this early in the process and am hopeful for better results in the near future.
     
    #18 jlanger, Dec 31, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2017
  19. Jonty

    Jonty I contributed!
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2009
    Messages:
    1,871
    Likes Received:
    83
    Fishies collected:
    14,505
    So what did the water taste like


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
  20. OP
    jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
    Lifetime Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2010
    Messages:
    3,156
    Likes Received:
    361
    Location:
    New Richmond, WI
    Fishies collected:
    27,051
    [​IMG]
     

Share This Page