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Bio balls...a thing of the past?

Belgian Anthias

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Talking about using bio-balls is talking about bio-filters, it is about the nitrogen cycle but also about the carbon cycle.
A good biofilter provides very effective remineralization with nitrate or and nitrogen gas as an end product. Produced ammonia is removed. Also, phosphate and CO2 are produced and a lot of building materials for the next generations, to be used with the produced nitrogen and phosphorus. As most organic carbon is transformed into CO2, produced nitrogen, phosphorus, and building materials are used by autotrophs, able to fix the missing carbon. Would using an algae filter to remove most of these leftovers be a good idea?
Very effective remineralization does provide a low TOC and DOC level.
What may harm corals? an increasing nitrate level, an increasing phosphate level, or an increasing DOC level?
 

flampton

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Talking about using bio-balls is talking about bio-filters, it is about the nitrogen cycle but also about the carbon cycle.
A good biofilter provides very effective remineralization with nitrate or and nitrogen gas as an end product. Produced ammonia is removed. Also, phosphate and CO2 are produced and a lot of building materials for the next generations, to be used with the produced nitrogen and phosphorus. As most organic carbon is transformed into CO2, produced nitrogen, phosphorus, and building materials are used by autotrophs, able to fix the missing carbon. Would using an algae filter to remove most of these leftovers be a good idea?
Very effective remineralization does provide a low TOC and DOC level.
What may harm corals? an increasing nitrate level, an increasing phosphate level, or an increasing DOC level?
Actually the best ideas in a reef tank is to utilize autotrophs as a minor
player. The best bet is to import or export the ammonia before it ever has a chance to become nitrate altogether. Which is easily done now by various methods
 

tvan

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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?
anaerobic denitrification the last stage so to speak of the nitrate cycle. My DSB in three containers 7" deep in my 10 gallon sump. But most people use chemicals to lower nitrates.
 

Lasse

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The best bet is to import or export the ammonia before it ever has a chance to become nitrate altogether. Which is easily done now by various methods
Which method´s can be used as a net export of ammonia more than aeration?

Sincerely Lasse
 

flampton

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Which method´s can be used as a net export of ammonia more than aeration?

Sincerely Lasse
Carbon dosing. The influx of utilizable carbon allows the heterotrophs to grow. The hets will take up the ammonia and the carbon to make the AAs and other assorted organics. These bacteria will hopefully either consumed by filter feeders (thus locking the nitrogen into tissue) or skimmed out. Another positive is in a well stocked reef the corals will also be absorbing the ammonia as well.

Now what is great about the nitrifiers is they are the stabilizers. So if the population of fish, hets or corals or whatever changes they can detoxify the excess ammonia before it gets too high in most cases.
 

flampton

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@flampton So we're back to more surfaces or strings of bacteria in the water
Well that's up to the individual reefer and how much flux of nitrogen and carbon they want through the system. If you want to feed heavy and get great growth while limiting nitrates (and phosphates) you need a significant heterotroph population. Those will be placed in the food chain or skimmed off. So you can get blooms if you don't know what you're doing. Or run biopellets with output into skimmer for a more clean look (I actually am going to be running these but not into the skimmer because I want the bacteria in the food chain and I get to control the carbon surface area). But you need that strong flux of ammonia. The corals will love you for it.
 

Mastiffsrule

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I have not read the thread, so just answering the title,

No, run them on my 60. Ran them for 20 years in the 80s and 90s and actually into 2000s with no problems. My 60 is fish only right now since don’t have time to add coral. Have not tested the tank so cannot say if there are any issues that would affect coral but fish are fine. I will start coral once I am finished messing with my 180.

I think people that claim they are detris trap or nitrate traps just don’t keep up with them. Keep a clean drip tray in a wet dry with a clean pad and once and a while mix up the balls and they are fine. I think they add as much O2 as a skimmer. Just an opinion there

1600211638229.jpeg
 

Lasse

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if the hets get excess nitrogen to carbon then they'll excrete ammonia
I´m not sure of that.

What exactly are benthic heterotrophs doing in a food web and what´s their growth limitation in a normal aquarium? What type of heterotrophs dominate in an aquarium (benthic or pelagic). What type of heterotrophs will eventually be skimmed out - benthic or pelagic? (I´m aware of benthic bacteria attached to particles in the water - but in general) What´s timescale of the mineralization process in an aquarium without adding of external DOC compared with an aquarium there external DOC will be added? What´s the timescale for growth of nitrification (they are benthic and build biofilms) bacteria compared with benthic heterotrophs.

How will anaerobic heterotrophs use DOC (mainly as a growth factor or as an alternative electron donor in the metabolism) ? What will anaerobic breakdown process produce as waste?

What´s the output of NH3/NH4 from added food in an aquarium?

There is a lot of more questions to be put - but all indicate that use of external DOC will release more NH3/NH4 into the water column during the same timescale compared with an aquarium without external DOC addition if the input of organic N is the same in both systems (input of organic N - other words for input of food). The answers will also indicate that use of optimized nitrification filters will be more and more important with rising external DOC addition. The surface available for growth of bacteria film needs to be huge in order to support both autotrophs and heterotrophs. The nitrification bacteria is extremely oxygen dependent and can only be active in the first µm of the the interference zone between water and substrate. Because of this - the use of substrate with "huge" internal space is worthless for the nitrification process - biofilm of heterotrophs will rapidly block all of this "huge amount" of pores. However - they can be excellent for passive denitrification - they work like a DSB.

A good nitrification filter should have a good flow, much surface that is in contact with the high flow, hence most of the dead biofilm (dead for nitrification purpose) will be flushed away (good for your corals and filtrating animals). High flow also mean that more oxygen will be transported into the biofilm per time period - important in saltwater because of the fact that saltwater at the same temperature will carry 1,5 mg lesser O2 per L compared with freshwater. Bioballs is one good filtration media for nitrification. Many other filters is good too - like foam filters - but for all of them is very important with a high flow - it means high oxygen supply and that "dead" (maybe oxygen depleted is a better word because the film is in reality heterotrophic bacteria using low amount or no oxygen in their metabolism) biofilm is flushed away.

The general idea about zeolite filters is that they are good because they block ammonium that will be used of nitrification bacteria with time. There is one incorrectness with that statement - many studies of nitrification bacteria have shown that they can only use NH3/NH4 in solution - not blocked NH3/NH4. Its also unclear if zeolite really is able to block ammonia in saltwater because of the high chloride concentration. However - do zeolite filter works as nitrification filters. IMO - if they are used as intended - with backflush one to twice each day - they work as an charm as nitrification filters. The backflush just throw away dead biofilm (high in heterotrophs) and enables nitrifiers to grow without competition.

But if you do not want to backflush your filter twice a day? Because that oxygen is a critical factor - high flow filters that's not is drowned - as trickle filters with an air space between water level and the lower part of the filter (it will allow an reversed airstream going up) are an alternative. Because of the high flow they will backflush in a continuous way. But there is a myth that the water should be at a low flow rate and rise the contact period - this is not valid for a recirculated system like an aquarium - on the contrary - as high flow as possible is better both to allow high oxygen levels and to maintain a thin active biofilm of nitrifiers.

I´m talking about to optimize the process not about that mixed biofilms ( like the ones @Belgian Anthias advocate for) will work or not (they will work in low loaded systems) but need a huge space. IMO - it is better to have two different types of "biofiltering spots" - each optimized for its own purpose.

A word about "high" concentration of nitrate and its negative impact on corals and other invertebrates - has this really been shown in controlled experiments as a lonely factor? I have read much about this but really not seen any "hard" facts about it.

Sincerely Lasse
 
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flampton

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I´m not sure of that.

What exactly are benthic heterotrophs doing in a food web and what´s their growth limitation in a normal aquarium? What type of heterotrophs dominate in an aquarium (benthic or pelagic). What type of heterotrophs will eventually be skimmed out - benthic or pelagic? (I´m aware of benthic bacteria attached to particles in the water - but in general) What´s timescale of the mineralization process in an aquarium without adding of external DOC compared with an aquarium there external DOC will be added? What´s the timescale for growth of nitrification (they are benthic and build biofilms) bacteria compared with benthic heterotrophs.

How will anaerobic heterotrophs use DOC (mainly as a growth factor or as an alternative electron donor in the metabolism) ? What will anaerobic breakdown process produce as waste?

What´s the output of NH3/NH4 from added food in an aquarium?

There is a lot of more questions to be put - but all indicate that use of external DOC will release more NH3/NH4 into the water column during the same timescale compared with an aquarium without external DOC addition if the input of organic N is the same in both systems (input of organic N - other words for input of food). The answers will also indicate that use of optimized nitrification filters will be more and more important with rising external DOC addition. The surface available for growth of bacteria film needs to be huge in order to support both autotrophs and heterotrophs. The nitrification bacteria is extremely oxygen dependent and can only be active in the first µm of the the interference zone between water and substrate. Because of this - the use of substrate with "huge" internal space is worthless for the nitrification process - biofilm of heterotrophs will rapidly block all of this "huge amount" of pores. However - they can be excellent for passive denitrification - they work like a DSB.

A good nitrification filter should have a good flow, much surface that is in contact with the high flow, hence most of the dead biofilm (dead for nitrification purpose) will be flushed away (good for your corals and filtrating animals). High flow also mean that more oxygen will be transported into the biofilm per time period - important in saltwater because of the fact that saltwater at the same temperature will carry 1,5 mg lesser O2 per L compared with freshwater. Bioballs is one good filtration media for nitrification. Many other filters is good too - like foam filters - but for all of them is very important with a high flow - it means high oxygen supply and that "dead" (maybe oxygen depleted is a better word because the film is in reality heterotrophic bacteria using low amount or no oxygen in their metabolism) biofilm is flushed away.

The general idea about zeolite filters is that they are good because they block ammonium that will be used of nitrification bacteria with time. There is one incorrectness with that statement - many studies of nitrification bacteria have shown that they can only use NH3/NH4 in solution - not blocked NH3/NH4. Its also unclear if zeolite really is able to block ammonia in saltwater because of the high chloride concentration. However - do zeolite filter works as nitrification filters. IMO - if they are used as intended - with backflush one to twice each day - they work as an charm as nitrification filters. The backflush just throw away dead biofilm (high in heterotrophs) and enables nitrifiers to grow without competition. Because that oxygen is a critical factor - high flow filters that's not is drowned - as trickle filters with an air space between water level and the lower part of the filter (it will allow an reversed airstream going up). But there is a myth that the water should be at a low flow rate and rise the contact period - this is not valid for a recirculated system like an aquarium - on the contrary - as high flow as possible is better both to allow high oxygen levels and to maintain a thin active biofilm of nitrifiers.

I´m talking about to optimize the process not about that mixed biofilms ( like the ones @Belgian Anthias advocate for) will work or not (they will work in low loaded systems) but need a huge space. IMO - it is better to have two different types of "biofiltering spots" - each optimized for its own purpose.

A word about "high" concentration of nitrate and its negative impact on corals and other invertebrates - has this really been shown in controlled experiments as a lonely factor? I have read much about this but really not seen any "hard" facts about it.

Sincerely Lasse
You're not sure that when a heterotroph gets excess nitrogen (e.g proteins) that it excretes ammonia? Where do you think the ammonia comes from in the aquarium?
 

Lasse

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hets get excess nitrogen to carbon
My bold - I read it as wrong C/N ratio

I´m not sure that it is the only pathway when they excretes ammonia as I try to explain further on in my text. IMO - their primary pathway of N handling is that they excrete ammonia in the mineralization process (independent of the C/N ratio but the ratio decide how much they will excrete - if one of them get limited it stop excrete inorganic N and/or CO2) .

In a mature aquarium - they are maybe the most important ammonia producers. The input of N in a closed system as an aquarium is normally food (I exclude newly introduced living organisms that die) containing N in form of organic N. The first ammonia "producer" is fish and other gillbrething animals. Around 60 - 80% of the digested N will be excreted trough the gills as NH3/NH4 - mostly the first two hours after eating. The percent excreted inorganic N is mostly depended of age (read grow rate of the organism in question). This excreted inorganic N given a growth of photosynthetic organism - and therefore more food loops - together with undigested (the poop) and uneaten food will be the base for microbial mineralization, hence excrete more NH3/NH4. This will happens in smaller and smaller food loops. IMO - in a mature system - the microbial excretion of NH3/NH4 is the most important. However - the organic carbon bound in the food is not a "fast" carbon source directly available for heterotrophs. This will limit the growth of heterotrophs (hence the excretion of NH3/NH4) till the system has matured and release DOC by itself (hydrolyzation as an example). To add external DOC is to take a shortcut - speeding up the mineralization process and create new and other problems (like limiting the nitrification process and rise the oxygen demand)

Sincerely Lasse
 
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Lasse

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IMO - DOC dosing will give a higher heterotrophic biomass - hence block more N as biomass but you will not export this trough the skimmer because it will mostly form a biofilm in the aquarium. IMO - the thicker biofilms seen in the skimmer cup when dosing DOC is not a result of more captured bacteria - its a result of faster growth in the skimmer cup and that cleaned water is not coming back to the aquaria.

Sincerely Lasse
 
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Lasse

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I forget - there is one possible direct input of inorganic N and hence NH3/NH4 production into our aquariums. Nitrogen fixation by some cyanobacteria (and probably by some anaerobic heterophic bacteria too).

Sincerely Lasse
 

jda

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A word about "high" concentration of nitrate and its negative impact on corals and other invertebrates - has this really been shown in controlled experiments as a lonely factor? I have read much about this but really not seen any "hard" facts about it.
If you can find the older AA articles that Dr. Holmes-Farley wrote on Nitrate (and even phosphate), there are many links that show that calcification slows as nitrate gets higher in a variety of true coral (not just one species like some). Also, some stuff on regenerative tissue being impacted significantly. However, I have not been able to find these articles for a while and the links in the reference section have started to go bye-bye a decade ago - maybe you can find them as purely academic papers. As you know, too much N and P will kill every living carbon based organism in differing amounts, so all of this makes sense that at some level, stuff is impacted. The real issue with all of this is even if all of my deepwater and smooth skinned acropora will suffer with a tank N of 100ppm, there are plenty of coral that seem unaffected at this level and those who believe that absent of a "study" that confirms whatever bias that they have, that all coral should do fine in these conditions - this is where the single-coral studies and efforts have less meaning to me.

Don't waste too much of your time on the rest of this... too many people without much actual experience who like to talk and don't like to read or learn.
 

brandon429

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Randy is commenting on surface area and bacteria/filtration there we can use that as a nice meter for the study here
 

Lasse

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Randy´s argue in that tread is if the nitrate is produced in areas that is close to denitrification zones (ie in a biofilm on a porous media or on sand) it will not be mixed in the water column. With the high water movement we have in our tanks today and the knowledge that the nitrification zone in a biofilm only is around a µm thick and facing the water column I do not think it is a question where it is produced - it will end up in the water column nevertheless. But that is IMO.

Sincerely Lasse
 

jda

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I hit on this on the first page. It is a good theory, but without much to actually back it up. There are tanks with bioballs that very low residual N levels and tanks without them that are very high.
 

njreefman

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The marine bio balls keep my nitrates low. I rarely ever do a water change and the nitrate stays at 3 to 6
 

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