• For a Limited Time the R2R Partner Membership is NOW OPEN! Get some cool swag and chances to win part of over $20,000 in prizes! Click here for more details

Bio balls...a thing of the past?

Karling

Community Member
View Badges
Joined
Aug 3, 2020
Messages
41
Reaction score
44
Location
Denver
They better be, i just removed a full five gallon bucket of bioballs from my system based on "feedback" about them.

All of the detritus is gone in my sump and its functioning much better. I custom built a single 7inch sock for both overflows to pour into and i change it out every Monday and Thursday. I also ran my intake pump for my skimmer into that same holding chamber and the exhaust goes into the holding area where the return pumps are. The system is running MUCH better now. I have also added some rubble in the overflow area in the sump along with 1 hermit.
 
Top Shelf Aquatics

tvan

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jun 10, 2020
Messages
234
Reaction score
409
Location
Ozarks
@brandon429 So were does the anaerobic denitrification part of the process take place? A lot of reason's why DSB tanks failed in the 90s had to do with not enough lights, not enough water motion, no nitrates, no phosphates.
 

brandon429

why did you put a reef in that
View Badges
Joined
Dec 9, 2014
Messages
13,587
Reaction score
11,112
Location
tejas
agreed that may occur but we simply dont factor it since its so variable. If it worked that way even better than 30% of attempts, our thread would die out from no need. people have to do the ugly work cleaning to command performance, until something else comes along reducing work and getting tamed reefs.



*that is ideal though, denitrification if possible it saves work for sure. hard to attain. those who wrote sandbed rules implied that outcome was consistent we think it certainly is not consistent. I myself keep a six inch deep sand bed I like the 90s looks. but its clean vs mudded up, only difference, and that gives my reef long lifespan.

in the end I wanted to convey the difference between extra and required surface area and how we're allowed to handle/remove the extra stuff without harming the required area. the hobby did not give us that permission until recently.


the use of bioballs in reefing is tied to a purchase impulse that makes us feel safe against nh3 noncontrol but that will never occur. we do it just to have the 'extra' cushion, but we've already got extra in three other zones.
 
Last edited:

AlpineM5

New Member
View Badges
Joined
Sep 15, 2020
Messages
2
Reaction score
3
Location
Connecticut
Hi, new here. Actually I'm sure I had an account 10 years ago when I was more active in the hobby.

This thread couldn't be more timely. I am currently rebuilding my 180g fish only tank. It has been running non stop for approximately 15 years but the last 8 years without really touching it other than just keeping a powder blue and purple tang alive. In the last few months I have been slowly rebuilding and adding new equipment. I've also been doing a ton of reasearch as so much has changed in this hobby since I was active.

Ok back to bio balls. So one of the first things I did was replace my old wet-dry sump with a new sump with an actual skimmer compartment this time and a fuge compartment that could be ran as a wet-dry. Since I had all these "seeded" bio balls, I decided to use the compartment as a wet-dry with some of the old bio balls and a new Brightwell x-port block. I put a box of Marine Pure balls in a high flow area but completely submerged as well. I've also added a much larger skimmer (Reef Octopus regal 250 sss) and a Aqua UV 57w.

I've now drastically increased my bioload and have added 7 small to medium angels and of course feeding much more. So long story short I'm worried about nitrates getting out of hand. They're currently holding at about 10-12ppm but I'm anticipating a rise and I'm planning to start carbon dosing. So bottom line, should I keep the wet-dry part of my sump? It's also important to mention I do not have any live rock. Only large coral inserts in the display.
 
Last edited:

Belgian Anthias

Well-Known Member
View Badges
Joined
Oct 31, 2017
Messages
949
Reaction score
420
Location
Aarschot Belgium
Bio-balls?
Made of plastic, polymers, they are used as a base and substrate for growing bacteria.
Made of bio-degradable polymers or and bio-polymers as PHA they are used as a carbon source.
If used as a base for growing bacteria bio-balls are just an expensive replacement for normal sand.
If instead of op plastic balls calcium carbonate, shell grit or aragonite sand, is used as a substrate in the first stage of a bio-filter alkalinity is better supported.
 

brandon429

why did you put a reef in that
View Badges
Joined
Dec 9, 2014
Messages
13,587
Reaction score
11,112
Location
tejas
very neat changeup there, I indeed would keep the extra surface area in that case/sans live rock. solid plan above.

regarding nitrates this factors heavily: we have several recent comparison threads where nitrate test brand X reads fifty ppm vs another brand on the same sample, so dont take a one off reading as the locked on amount and make system changes around that.

most of our nitrate tests are approximations.


either buy whatever the best low range detector is, digital, or don't worry about nitrates all that much directly as they're not lethal in your setup and can be directly filtered against using dedicated media/nitrate scrubbers etc. The UV is an excellent plan here, can be a real breakpoint for certain invasions, I would always run or have a large UV ready/plumbed in any system too big to get a full water change if needed.

if your tank was mine and I wanted to keep hazing, algae, po4/nitrate-fueled items in balance I'd do the skimming and carbon dosing most likely, what you have planned.
 
Last edited:

AlpineM5

New Member
View Badges
Joined
Sep 15, 2020
Messages
2
Reaction score
3
Location
Connecticut
very neat changeup there, I indeed would keep the extra surface area in that case/sans live rock. solid plan above.

regarding nitrates this factors heavily: we have several recent comparison threads where nitrate test brand X reads fifty ppm vs another brand on the same sample, so dont take a one off reading as the locked on amount and make system changes around that.

most of our nitrate tests are approximations.


either buy whatever the best low range detector is, digital, or don't worry about nitrates all that much directly as they're not lethal in your setup and can be directly filtered against using dedicated media/nitrate scrubbers etc. The UV is an excellent plan here, can be a real breakpoint for certain invasions, I would always run or have a large UV ready/plumbed in any system too big to get a full water change if needed.

if your tank was mine and I wanted to keep hazing, algae, nitrate-fueled items in balance I'd do the skimming and carbon dosing most likely, what you have planned.

Thanks for the reply! It's great to have some verification as I've been basically doing this on my own.

I use the Red Sea Pro Nitrate test and test about once a week just because I've been increasing the bio load over the last 8 weeks. I'm actually surprised it hasn't really shot up at all based on my feeding habbits to keep these angels happy and friendly.

Really my only concern is nuisance algae because I don't have a fuge and run my UV on the low flow end to keep the pests out. So I appreciate your comments and I actually have my doser arriving tomorrow to start carbon dosing. I'll start of with 1/4 dose and see how things go over some weeks.

Thanks again!
 

Belgian Anthias

Well-Known Member
View Badges
Joined
Oct 31, 2017
Messages
949
Reaction score
420
Location
Aarschot Belgium
Here is what I learned a long time ago when bio balls were used for fish only tanks. Plastic bio balls used in what was termed a “wet/dry “ sump, where they weren’t submerged but tank water trickled through them harbored aerobic bacteria that would break down your nitrite to nitrate. Hence, wet/dry filters started to be termed “nitrate factories “, once reef tanks came around. Nitrate is harmless to fish, but we all know what high nitrates can cause in a reef tank. The bacteria that harbor live rock and deep sand beds are said to be anaerobic, and break down nitrates further into simple nitrogen. I still use bio balls but I keep them submerged mostly to break down bubbles coming from display before a refugium for example.
As far as I know, nitrates are a safely stored nitrogen reserve. Nitrates are the end product of aerobic remineralization and essential for the carrying capacity of the system. What high nitrates can cause in a reef tank? For example at level of 80ppm, a level concidered high by most reefers? What if the same production of nitrogen was not present as nitrate-nitrogen?
+- 40% of all bacteria present in a normal nitrifying ( reminerelizing) biofilm are following an anaerobic pathway, No need for deep sand beds or so-called "live rock". A normal nitrifying biofilm growing on a substrate of shell grit may export +- 15% of all nitrogen processed by the biofilm as N2.
 

Dr Jimmy

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
May 3, 2020
Messages
180
Reaction score
151
I put bioballs in the last chamber. The water flowing over the last weir tumbles them keeping them pretty clean (they were getting "sluffy" when I didn't have them moving.
 

adobo

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jun 14, 2020
Messages
137
Reaction score
112
@brandon429 So were does the anaerobic denitrification part of the process take place? A lot of reason's why DSB tanks failed in the 90s had to do with not enough lights, not enough water motion, no nitrates, no phosphates.
I got lost in the transition. What does removing bio-balls or characterizing bio-balls as unnecessary have anything to do with anaerobic denitrification? Conventional wisdom as I understand it is, rock and sand is sufficient to process ammonia to nitrite and then nitrite to nitrate in reef tanks assuming you have "reasonable" bio-loads. (Keeping fish only marine tanks out of the discussion for now.).

With anaerobic denitrification, are you referring to processing nitrates to nitrogen gas? If so, aren't systems other than bio balls the right tool for managing nitrate levels? Examples - DSB (crappy, IMO), ATS, bio-pellets / carbon dosing, sufficient corals / clams or even perhaps sufficient water changes?
 

adobo

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jun 14, 2020
Messages
137
Reaction score
112
The crazy thing is that people in the early days of reefing online thought that bio balls would create nitrate out of thin air and that the same nitrate would not be made in other places of their tanks if they took them out. They did not know that as soon as that ammonia was made, the nitrate was going to come one way or another. This was one of the widely parroted dumb things of that day.
Nitrate "out of thin air" was not conventional wisdom back in the day. I think the thought was that bio-balls (and wet dry systems in general) were very efficient at converting ammonia all the way to nitrates. If memory serves, the idea was if nitrification happened closed to anaerobic zones, porous live rock and deep sand beds would have better ability to process nitrate to nitrogen gas.

This, of course, like many things that are "conventional wisdom" was born out of "it seems to make sense" rather than something that was evidence based. It never made sense to me that wet-dry systems' efficiency was a detriment in denitrification as tanks that had elevated nitrate levels had uniformly elevated nitrate levels, not just areas within proximity of the wet-dry.

It is probably fair to say that for reef tanks, wet-dry systems and their bio-balls (or bio bale or whatever other media) is unnecessary. We are probably coming around to the actual reasons why that is the case where in the past, we probably accidentally had the right answer but for the wrong reasons.
 

Belgian Anthias

Well-Known Member
View Badges
Joined
Oct 31, 2017
Messages
949
Reaction score
420
Location
Aarschot Belgium
I just this week helped a friend move and cleaned his 110-gal acrylic hex AIO that was loaded with the old-school bio balls. His tank was about 3-years old and always looked amazing with healthy corals. But his bio load was light and upon my inspection while cleaning, I found that almost 1/3 of his bio balls had sludged-up and were not tumbling or functioning.

Personally I am a big believer in Seachem Matrix for surface area and longevity. I don't do live rock so I depend heavily on biomedia. Excellent mechanical filtration prior to any biomedia is critical for longevity. IMHO bio balls do work, but there's much better biomedia choices nowadays with exceptionally higher surface area than anything plastic can produce.
Depending on bio-media!?
A mechanical filter will become bio-media within a few hours after the introduction.
Not talking about commercial products, what media do you mean? "Bio-balls" may just provide surface as any other media will do. Other so-called "bio-balls" may provide a carbon source. Real bio-balls are bio-degradable and made from biological products and are used as a substrate, a food source, often an organic carbon source.
The biofiltration capacity depends on the water exchange rate, the provision of oxygen and nutrients.
In the case, the surface would be the most important, without any doubt GAC would be the best media for bio-filtration.
If a few pieces of sterile rock or some sand are put in an established aquarium it will become " live rock " and " live sand" within a few hours, to become propper bio-filter media colonized with all bacs needed it will take at least a few weeks.
What would be the benefit of using so-called "bio-media" compared to cheap " sand"?
 

adobo

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jun 14, 2020
Messages
137
Reaction score
112
Depending on bio-media!?
A mechanical filter will become bio-media within a few hours after the introduction.
Not talking about commercial products, what media do you mean? "Bio-balls" may just provide surface as any other media will do. Other so-called "bio-balls" may provide a carbon source. Real bio-balls are bio-degradable and made from biological products and are used as a substrate, a food source, often an organic carbon source.
The biofiltration capacity depends on the water exchange rate, the provision of oxygen and nutrients.
In the case, the surface would be the most important, without any doubt GAC would be the best media for bio-filtration.
If a few pieces of sterile rock or some sand are put in an established aquarium it will become " live rock " and " live sand" within a few hours, to become propper bio-filter media colonized with all bacs needed it will take at least a few weeks.
What would be the benefit of using so-called "bio-media" compared to cheap " sand"?
I am confused as to some of the terminology now. I thought:
  • Bio-balls are not bio-degradable nor do the serve as food source for bacteria. At least, not the old school bio balls used in wet dry filters.
  • Bio-pellets are bio-degradable and can serve as an organic carbon source.
Am I mistaken?
 

alton

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Feb 8, 2016
Messages
1,580
Reaction score
2,650
Location
Zuehl, Texas
Bio Balls for biological load, not anymore we have liverock. A wetdry/trickle filter starts out with 100+ ¼” holes in a drip tray with filter pad that disperses water evenly over well stacked bio balls, half that are exposed to the air, adding oxygen to the water. Except for one aquarium all my tanks have had at least one tower of bio balls since middle 1990’s, before that it was bio bale. My longest running tank a Oceanic 200 gallon with no changes ran from 1999 to 2009 and when I changed to a 300 gallon, and the nitrates never ran over 5 ppm. The amount of life and filter feeders that grew in the non-lit sump where unbelievable.

Remember the comment one tank without bio balls? When it became my first tank to ever crash, I threw the sump out and replaced it with a tower wetdry and bio balls. Like everything else there is no magic recipe, you need a maintenance schedule.
 
Aquarium Specialty - dry goods & marine livestock

Belgian Anthias

Well-Known Member
View Badges
Joined
Oct 31, 2017
Messages
949
Reaction score
420
Location
Aarschot Belgium
Bio-filters have never produced to much nitrate and certainly do not produce nitrogen.
A bio-filter can only use and process what is supplied. If managed properly such a filter can not produce more nitrate as desired by the user. It is about making a choice between ammonia-nitrogen, nitrite-nitrogen, and nitrate-nitrogen to be used as a nitrogen source. If not all nitrogen sources are used up directly, I prefer the nitrogen to be present as nitrate.
As the carrying capacity of the system depends on the ammonia reduction rate within a certain period of time, using biofilters one may manage the carrying capacity as desired, also in LNS.
All systems grow, using a bio-filter the growing bio-load can be supported and be managed at all times.
Using biofilters the bio-load of a reef system can be increased considerably.


If nitrate-nitrogen is used as a nitrogen source, growth rates are slowed down at least (x3-x8) The nitrate level does not influence growth rates. The nitrate level does not influence algae growth rates.

A nitrifying biofilm does export a lot of nitrogen as N2! +- 1/2 of the bacteria population of a nitrifying biofilm is following an anaerobic pathway. (Spotte, Stephen. Fish and invertebrate culture; water management in closed systems. New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1970.) By helping a bit and stimulating the right processes we are now able to export > 80% of all nitrogen processed by the nitrifying biofilter.
It is a fact nitrifying biofilters do export a lot of nitrogen! They still do! Those who have banned the biofilter claiming it produces too much nitrate did not really know what they were talking about or had other reasons. Most of these authors did not hesitate to bring " live rock" into the picture.

Born out of "it seems to make sense" is the use of so-called "live rock" as a biofilter. Till now still, there is no evidence for "live rock" to be a good bio-filter, certainly when it comes to exporting nitrogen. I could not find any proper research concerning the capacity of " live rock" as a bio-filter.( http://www.reefkeeping.com/issues/2004-05/rs/feature/index.php ) ref: Anthias 2019
 

Scott Campbell

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
May 26, 2017
Messages
267
Reaction score
580
If you look at the processes involved no one mentions an extremely consequential part. I have no idea why this info seems to have been lost in the aquarium world. There is the nitrogen cycle. Everyone knows it goes from NH3 NO2 NO3 N2 and back to NH3 through fixation. Don't worry about fixation it is just to show it is a cycle. The problem is the average reefer believes that this is the only process. Yet not realizing a significant amount of ammonia is used by bacteria and other species to become amino acids. If it's a coral performing this process it's building tissue, you have the same amount of nitrogen in your system but it's 'locked'. What is more important to general tank well being is incorporation into bacteria or algae. Heterotrophic bacteria incorporate the ammonia and then get skimmed out, or algae incorporate and get removed.

So to the original point. Aerobic bioballs are and we're nitrate factories because they favored nitrifying bacteria significantly over the heterotrophs. More thought out techniques such as carbon dosing and algae scrubbers work on removing the ammonia before it ever has a chance of becoming nitrate. A better way forward.

So the answer is biomedia is useful, but don't run it highly aerobic as it will become a nitrate factory. Thus wet/dry is bad for nitrate sensitive organisms.

Thanks for coming to this unplanned TED talk :D
I'm not sure what you are saying about bioballs is true. Corals and algae certainly compete with nitrifying bacteria for ammonia. And with more coral growth and more algae growth the volume and importance of nitrifying bacteria decreases. But I'm not sure adding extra surface area gives the nitrifying bacteria any "favored" advantage in that competition for ammonia. Perhaps with the exception of high volume fish only tanks, nitrifying bacteria will always find sufficient surface area. The limiting factor will be ammonia and whether or not the nitrifying bacteria can access that ammonia faster than the corals and algae. Giving the nitrifying bacteria more surface area probably has no effect whatsoever. So at worst bio balls just don't really do anything. But I doubt they cause an established reef tank to somehow generate more nitrate than the tank would otherwise create.

Bottom line - not sure how bioballs really help nitrifying bacteria out-compete corals and algae in the battle for ammonia.
 

brandon429

why did you put a reef in that
View Badges
Joined
Dec 9, 2014
Messages
13,587
Reaction score
11,112
Location
tejas
I disagree with that Scott. this is just why I prefer work threads to see my own patterns vs hear other's interpretation of mechanisms, show me a hundred tanks doing something and it makes sense. Show patterning with nitrate vs nh3 control, any pattern we can see

Very interested to see what measurements we accept as verified accurate, those details matter in my opinion
 
Last edited:

flampton

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Aug 2, 2020
Messages
351
Reaction score
1,236
Location
Flagstaff, AZ
I'm not sure what you are saying about bioballs is true. Corals and algae certainly compete with nitrifying bacteria for ammonia. And with more coral growth and more algae growth the volume and importance of nitrifying bacteria decreases. But I'm not sure adding extra surface area gives the nitrifying bacteria any "favored" advantage in that competition for ammonia. Perhaps with the exception of high volume fish only tanks, nitrifying bacteria will always find sufficient surface area. The limiting factor will be ammonia and whether or not the nitrifying bacteria can access that ammonia faster than the corals and algae. Giving the nitrifying bacteria more surface area probably has no effect whatsoever. So at worst bio balls just don't really do anything. But I doubt they cause an established reef tank to somehow generate more nitrate than the tank would otherwise create.

Bottom line - not sure how bioballs really help nitrifying bacteria out-compete corals and algae in the battle for ammonia.
Now to be clear I’m talking about wet dry trickle filters bioballs. It’s well known that having the water/air interface very thin it increases the efficiency of nitrifiers and denitrifiers. This definitely favors nitrate production over ammonia consumption by heterotrophic bacteria, algae corals etc...I mean that was the whole point of these filters and why they work well for overstocked fish only tanks.

If the bioball is fully submerged you won't get this effect. So they're is a difference in how you utilize these substances and the outcome
 

How often do you have some type of algae issue?

  • Constantly Something

    Votes: 269 42.8%
  • Every Month

    Votes: 37 5.9%
  • Every Few Months

    Votes: 82 13.0%
  • A Few Times A Year

    Votes: 87 13.8%
  • Once A Year Or So

    Votes: 63 10.0%
  • Every Few years

    Votes: 30 4.8%
  • Never.....(are you lying?)

    Votes: 40 6.4%
  • Other (please explain)

    Votes: 21 3.3%

Online statistics

Members online
995
Guests online
3,014
Total visitors
4,009
Aquaticlife
Top